Okay, there’s a lot to talk about this time (or maybe I’m just feeling wordy), so I’m stretching my discussion of Starlighter to two days. I’ll try to stay out of spoiler territory, but no guarantees.
Part I: Mostly About Dragons
Stories about dragons have fascinated us since before the dawn of recorded history. There are as many different portrayals of dragons as there are stories. Dragons are good, evil, wise, foolish, altruistic, greedy, friendly, and dangerous. They fly, or not. They breathe all manner of hazardous substances: fire, ice, acid, poison gas, lightning, and more–or not. They have hypnotic powers, or not.
Clearly, there’s a lot of disagreement about dragons. Some themes seem to be consistent, though. They’re huge (no, Mushu from Disney’s Mulan doesn’t count). They eat a lot. Like Red Riding Hood’s grandma, they have big eyes, sharp teeth, and long claws. They have scales and tails. They are connected to good fortune and wealth (usually by taking yours). They have a fondness for pretty girls (either as a fashion accessory, or for lunch). Most of all, they are mysterious.
The Bible is very straightforward in its use of dragons. The dragon symbolizes Satan, the ultimate personification of evil. The dragon means us no good, not one little bit. One of the most famous legends of Christian tradition is Saint George’s slaying of a nasty dragon that was laying waste to the Libyan countryside.
In modern speculative fiction, the dragon’s identity ranges from super-intelligent pet (as in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, or the recent film, How to Train Your Dragon), to misunderstood endangered species (in the film Dragonheart, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, or How to Train Your Dragon, before Hiccup manages to domesticate them), to subtle, dangerous adversary (Smaug in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit) to uncomplicated, ravening monster (the dragons in J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books). In C.S. Lewis‘ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb is transformed into a dragon (reflecting his spiritual condition, which must change before he can be cured).
That brings us to Bryan Davis’ Starlighter, and the dragons therein. They are the primary antagonists of this story, the obstacle Jason, Koren, and their friends must overcome to win freedom for the slaves and return them to their rightful home.
Let’s check off the easy stuff first. Davis’ dragons share all the consistent dragon characteristics, except perhaps the fondness for pretty girls, which seems to vary on a case-by-case basis, though they tend to favor redheads. They’re suckers for a well-told story, especially if it’s embellished with telepathic special effects by the aforementioned auburn-tressed lass. They fly. They breathe fire. They are unambiguously dangerous. They are also highly intelligent, with a sophisticated culture and strict system of justice.
Are they evil? Well, the court’s still out on that one. Davis’ dragons are actually rather human, underneath all those scales, and just as ethically conflicted. Though they value justice, truth, and the rule of law, their scruples are flexible when put to the test. They keep human slaves (in part to solve an environmental problem that threatens their survival), and some are brutal about it. Others are kindlier and not at all happy with the arrangement, though they bow to social pressure to preserve the status quo. Their political and religious castes are in constant conflict. One of the dragons seems to be playing both sides against each other, simultaneously defending and threatening the humans, his own motivations and agenda cloaked in mystery.
The unhatched dragon prince, conscious and able to communicate telepathically with selected individuals, belies his prophesied destiny as a great and noble ruler by giving a pretty good impression of Satan, promising freedom to our heroine Koren if she’ll only accept his shackles and serve him without reservation. “It is better that you love me by force than be given freedom to choose and not love me,” he croons. Brrrr. Smaug has nothing on this guy.
All-in-all, I like Davis’ dragons very much. They’re complex creatures, and that makes them interesting. The one thing that bothers me about them is their use of technology. They live in cities filled with sophisticated buildings, but require humans to literally dig them out of their environmental crisis. They’re surrounded by all manner of interesting gadgets whose origin and operating principles seem to have been lost in the mists of time, like the interplanetary portal, which seems well beyond their capabilities. They have a written language and books, but what little history they have is mostly contained in an oral tradition of songs and stories. No manuals, schematics, or warranty documentation. What is a race of creatures hobbled by limited fine motor skills and lacking any visible industry or manufacturing capability doing with all this advanced tech?
I keep thinking of Rex, the Tyrannosaurus from the Toy Story movies, who had a lot of trouble operating any sort of gadget: “My arms are too short!”
My guess is there’s a lot about the origin of both Major Four and Starlight that Mr. Davis has yet to tell us. The story also has one foot planted in the world of fantasy and the other in the world of science fiction. My inner Frodo is okay with the mystery, but my inner Spock needs it all to add up. There are three installments of the Dragons of Starlight series yet to come, so I’m willing to wait for the explanation.
Tomorrow, Part II: Mostly About Humans. Check out the other fine offerings on this month’s Tour, linked below. They also taste good with ketchup.
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
The Galactic Overlord
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<