I hit gold on my last library trip—there on the shelf in the science fiction/fantasy section was a book with five dragon-themed short novels by renowned science fiction and fantasy authors. I’ve always thought that the short novel was an awkward length for a story, but the authors featured in The Dragon Quintet (ed. Marvin Kaye) did a decent job of making it work (I just wish the characters could have been more developed in these plot-focused stories). What I really loved about this collection wasthat all five stories have extremely unique takes on dragons. Here are some of my thoughts after reading:
1. “In the Dragon House”—Orson Scott Card
This was a good story with enjoyable characters, but I had one problem—I didn’t understand what happened! I loved how the story was written, but what, exactly, was the dragon? Was it related to the dragon gargoyle? The cranky former homeowner? The unexplained train set hidden in the attic? All I can safely tell you about this story (other than that it’s good and you should read it) is that when young Michael encounters the dragon in his Granny’s Victorian house, he will never be the same again. The preface to the book says that Card might turn this into a full-length novel someday; maybe that will clear up the points I’m still confused on.
2. “Judgment”—Elizabeth Moon
I really liked this fantasy village-set story, even though the main character fit the stereotype of “character who is young and honest and suffers for it.” Even if Ker was a bit predictable in that way, I still appreciated that he did the right thing even though it cost him nearly everything. In the end, his decision to go against his future father-in-law’s wishes to try to save his village saved the lives of him and his mother and earned him approval and a gift from a dragon. I enjoyed the unique take on the form and properties of dragon eggs—and dragons—as well as the value placed on wisdom in the story.
3. “Love in a Time of Dragons”—Tanith Lee
Spoiler alert: It was nifty how part one leads you to believe that Graynne has fallen for the dragon-hunting champion, when in reality she loves the dragon, as we find out abruptly in part two. I liked how the dragons in this story migrate when winter comes (rather than hibernating) and how we see a human dragon wife with a dragon son. However, I wasn’t convinced by the way the young dragon comes to be, and I don’t appreciate reading sexual content and foul language like that found in this story.
4. “Joust”—Mercedes Lackey
Besides “Judgment,” this was my favorite of the five stories, so I was excited to find out that it has been expanded into a full novel with three sequels. Vetch is a conquered serf boy with a cruel master until he by chance finds a kinder master in the dragon-riding Jouster Ari. After caring for Ari’s dragon (his job reminded me of a horse groom), Vetch gets a chance to secretly acquire his own dragon egg. I definitely got caught up in this story, wondering if he would be discovered or manage to hatch a dragon and secure his freedom. I’m sure I’ll be reading the novels.
5. “King Dragon”—Michael Swanwick
This story was weird. The characters weren’t exactly mortal, and the dragons were living machines—have you ever heard of sentient creatures with built-in bombs and jet engines? When an enemy dragon takes over his village, Will is forced to become his lieutenant, speaking to and against his one-time friends on behalf of the metal beast. I was worried that he had given in too easily, but the ending (though not surprising for a quite plot-driven story) saves his character a bit. Note that this story is another one with some rough language and sexual references.
I know I didn’t say much about each story, so feel free to ask for any clarification or further details on any that interested you! If you enjoy dragons but get tired of seeing the same basic portrayals repeated, I definitely recommend that you check out The Dragon Quintet.