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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 3.25.2011 (reread)
Book from: Personal collection

book dragonkyn

Flight of the Dragon Kyn is the second in Susan Fletcher’s Dragon Chronicles, and a prequel to the rest of the series. (At the time that I found the books, they were a trilogy; a fourth that I’ve yet to read came out in 2010.) The series was one of my childhood favorites, combining as it did a number of my best-beloved themes and elements: an Arctic setting; a young female protagonist negotiating loyalties divided between the human and the inhuman world; and what amounts to an ecological crisis, rendered here in fantastical terms. All heady ingredients for a wannabe biologist/budding fantasy nerd. (Also falling under that rubric: Julie of the Wolves and The Woman Who Loved Reindeer.)

Kara, a young woman treated with fear and suspicion for her ability to communicate with birds, experiences a sudden reversal in fortunes when summoned by the king, who gives her rich gifts and takes a clear interest in her talent. Eventually he reveals – to Kara’s horror – that he wishes for her to use her power to call down dragons, so that he might earn recognition as a dragon-slayer. As readers of the preceding novel, Dragon’s Milk, will know, Kara gained her power when she was nursed by a dragon as an infant; the king’s demand forces her to choose between facing his punishment, and betraying her foster kin.

Re-reading the novel, what struck me the most strongly this time were not the movements of the plot, which are fairly standard, though well-told, as is Kara’s gradual evolution from a sullen, fearful loner to a young woman of resolve. (Though when it came to the plot, I could still barely face the scene in which [highlight for spoiler] the dragon who nursed Kara is slaughtered.) What stood out was the grace and lucidity of Fletcher’s prose, and the captivating immediacy with which she paints the the Nordic setting, both natural…

“It was one of those clear, frosty days when the wind snaps your cloak and fleets of clouds scud like warships across the sky. The sun lay low about the mountains, piercing the air with shafts of liquid light that glittered on the fjord and haloed the rime-shaggy firs. […] A whitchild called from a hawthorn tree; I called back. It swooped down and landed on my wrist, eyeing me unabashed, its fierce little claws pricking my skin. I called down a gull, too, which landed on my elbow, and a crake, and a sleepy stony owl that tucked one foot up and tried to take a nap on my arm. ‘Wake up,’ I said, twisting my arm so they all lost their balance and clutched me and wildly flapped their wings.

I laughed and stroked them one by one.”

…and human:

“I hesitated. My eyes, accustomed to the brightness out of doors, gradually made out the shape of the hall. Narrow, horn-covered windows striped the walls, shedding a dim, honeyed glow across a shifting tide of warriors and an undertow of dogs. A darkish smoke-haze lingered high in the network of beams and rafters, where perched a flock of doves.

One by one the warriors broke off talking and turned to look at me. Silence grew until it seemed to fill the hall, until the doves’ placid burbling sounded loud.”

Falconry was/is also one of my pet subjects; the novel weaves in absorbing scenes of Kara working with birds under the tutelage of a taciturn and irascible (of course) falconer, including her own gyrfalcon, Skava. And on the fantastical side of things, Fletcher invents some wonderful details of dragon biology – like the fact that infant dragons, being so full of combustible gases, float in their sleep, until grounded again upon breathing out little gouts of flame. And all of the scenes – often fraught with awe-ful tension – of Kara moving among the wild dragons are vivid and convincing.

All told, it made me happy to my roots, to step back into the world of an old, old favorite and find so many of its details as fresh and fascinating as I remembered them to be.  I’m thinking now of also revisiting Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner (1999), a retelling of the Thousand and One Nights’ frame story from the perspective of a young girl who helps Shahrazad to find new stories.

Go to:
Susan Fletcher: bio and works reviewed

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: Summer 2012, and again this week
Read the comic online here.

The Story of the Bad Egg: cover image

“Once upon there lived a prince in a palace.

This morning the prince was in the twelve-acre pool. He had just received a call saying that the flood in Hampshire was not as serious at it had first seemed and had in fact done wonders for agriculture. The royal visit to share in the local suffering was thus cancelled and the prince had a blank in his calendar …”

… and that blank ends up being filled by an ill-tempered dragon, who in turn yields up four eventually voracious dragon children. The Story of the Bad Egg,” a 34-page comic by Swedish illustrator Emily Ryan, is very droll and a touch morbid. Its finely inked art is a fun mix of airy, geometric, and quietly kinetic (I like all the curves made in space when the characters go into motion), set off by visual gags and verbal irony polished to a gleam. And the “bad” egg, who is accidentally allowed to sate her appetite with books and promptly transforms into a stubby, walking representation of written knowledge, is one of the most lovable characters I’ve run into in a long while. (Watch out for the scene where she asks her foster father to chalk her pool cue for her.)

comic badegg

Go to:
Read “The Story of the Bad Egg” online

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Date read: 3.5.11
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Words from the master (and by master, I mean Cimorene):

“Being upset is no excuse. If you’re going to be rude, do it for a reason and get something from it.”

I was down for the count with a stomach virus two weekends ago, which seemed an excellent excuse to loll around in bed with Talking to Dragons. I have nothing in the way of intelligent commentary, except to say that this series never stops being as clever and sharp and all-around excellent as I remembered it being. The combination in this book of Daystar being a hyperpolite semi-wuss (saved from true wussiness by his sensibleness and competence) and Shiara being as rude as possible to everyone they meet is particularly winning. Also, I didn’t at all remember that happening between Morwen and Telemain, so that ended up being a very pleasant surprise.

Cover-flap summary:

Daystar has never seen his mother, Cimorene, actually perform magic. Nor has he ever known her to enter the Enchanted Forest in all the years they have lived on its edge. That is not until a wizard shows up at their cottage shortly after Daystar’s sixteenth birthday. Much to Daystar’s surprise, Cimorene melts the unsavory fellow. And the following day, she comes out of the Enchanted Forest carrying a sword. With that and little else, she sends him off into adventure. Daystar doesn’t know why he’s tromping through the Forest fighting wizards and monsters, but others seem to know. Accompanied by a quick-tempered firewitch, Daystar stumbles upon a number of characters from his mother’s past: Morwen the witch, Telemain the magician, and Kazul the king of dragons.

Go to:
Patricia C. Wrede: bio and works reviewed
Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede (1990) E

Daystar has never seen his mother, Cimorene, actually perform magic. Nor has he ever known her to enter the Enchanted Forest in all the years they have lived on its edge. That is not until a wizard shows up at their cottage shortly after Daystar’s sixteenth birthday. Much to Daystar’s surprise, Cimorene melts the unsavory fellow. And the following day, she comes out of the Enchanted Forest carrying a sword. With that and little else, she sends him off into adventure.

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Date read: 6.8.10; umpteenth re-read
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

book dealingwithdragonsI feel like I shouldn’t need to introduce this book or this series. If you’ve never read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, what have you been doing with your life? Before Catherine, Called Birdy, before Ella Enchanted, before Robin McKinley’s heroines, Cimorene rocked my life. A princess who really just wants to fence, learn Latin, and be a dragon’s librarian/cook/mystery-solver? Sign me up, please. Add in Morwen, an acerbic, ginger-haired, hypercompetent witch with spectacles, bottomless sleeves, and a house full of attitudinal cats, and you have two pinnacles of no-nonsense badassery. In this first installment (actually published second, as the fourth book, chronologically, was the first written), Cimorene runs away from home and, thanks to the advice of a talking frog, promptly becomes the princess of a dragon named Kazul. While occupying her days with cooking, cataloguing, and fending off meddling wizards and persistent knights bent on her rescue, Cimorene uncovers a plot that threatens the dragon kingdom, and sets out to unravel it with the help of her new friends.

For the past few years I’ve been hunting down, very much out of order, the original hardback editions of the series, with Trina Schart Hyman’s cover illustrations (see above). When I finally got Dealing With Dragons, I couldn’t resist an immediate re-read, and luckily, the humor, energy, and inguenuity of Wrede’s writing hold up just as well with later reads. Though it’s clear to me now how utilitarian much of her writing is (e.g. “here I will insert a scene of Cimorene giving Kazul a bath so I have an excuse to make them talk about dragon history for a chapter”), and how often the plot relies on convenient coincidences to move it along, the characters are still utterly winning, and the world full of marvelous, clever detail. The book can be summed up, really, as delightful.

I was also struck this time around by my realization of how extremely polite Cimorene is, at the same time that she’s entirely intolerant of fluff and indecision – I had remembered how sarcastic she is, but not how carefully and strategically sheathed she keeps that sarcasm. Tears of admiration were wiped!

Go to:
Patricia C. Wrede: bio and works reviewed
Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede (1985) E

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