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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Dragon Queen (Alice Borchardt)

This was one of my more-or-less random picks at the used book store. Usually they end up being bad (for example, In the Wrong Hands by Edward Gibson. Written by a real! astronaut! Better to have books written by real authors...), but it's those once-in-a-whiles that make it all worth it.

The Dragon Queen is a Guinevere story, hardly unique at that. Still, the thousand-year-old fairy tales are often the ones that are best. I'd compare it with The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) -- except I haven't read it. (I also remember liking The Crystal Cave [Mary Stewart] quite a lot, but it's been many, many years. Anyways, that series focuses largely on Merlin, so it's not quite relevant here.)

The novel is lovely. The writing is lush and delightful. The characters are fresh and unique, yet still familiar.

And yet... some complaints.

First, this novel is the first in a series. I'm really fed up with fantasy series -- doesn't brevity sell anymore?

Second, the historical context is... confusing. I can't possibly keep track of all the various tribes and nobles and such. They're all in the background, so I didn't have to... but still.

Third, the plot is limited. We know Guinevere is going to grow up. We know she's going to marry Arthur. And everyone in the book knows it, too. So the plot follows the gift-gathering trope: the major obstacles result in the main characters gaining some bit of knowledge, or magical item, or adding a little piece to their personality.

(It's almost a bit like those video games: you have to run around, solve the puzzles, defeat the henchmen, fight the boss, and then you get the Magical Boots of Wonderment. Or the Pearlescent Orb of Perceptive Observation. And eventually, when you've got all the little toys, you win.)

Now, this gift-gathering trope, as I'm calling it, is certainly a very important part of the fantasy canon. I can't criticize that, per se, but there are really few surprises left in the plot when you know exactly what the characters will grow up to be.

Having offered these criticisms, I must soften them somewhat. The situations, the traps and monsters, the little jaunts to hell and other worlds, the magical gifts, they are so wonderfully creative, that I was in awe. Ms. Borchardt has done a fantastic job.

And my final verdict? I enjoyed reading it... but I feel no special pull to read the sequels.


Joel said...

Interesting. So is this a recommendation, or a review? :)

Mister Troll said...

Yeah, this and several of the posts I'm planning are a lot more "review-like" than I would prefer.

Call it a review if you must...

Joel said...

Gift-gathering trope - This is a new name for the ubiquitous quest to collect the magical items, but I like it (and can't think of the old name, if there is one). When I first read the words, "gift-gathering trope" I thought of Guinevere's wedding reception, and all of the wondrous gifts her guests had gathered for her, but this was obviously the wrong path to travel down. Still, it was fun to think about. :)