Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. Today we’re focusing on an excess or lack of some interesting ingredient.
This week is an opportunity to be terribly serious, but the world is a terribly serious place at the moment so I’m going to indulge myself in wishful thinking and silliness instead. If there’s one thing Temeraire has taught me (although I think there’s several), it’s that adding dragons makes everything better. I mean, if you can make the Napoleonic Wars interesting to me, you can pretty much sell me anything by adding a huge flying reptile. At least, that’s my theory.
To test it, I’m going to look at some books I hated, and some books that I didn’t love as much as I thought I would. Would dragons have made all the difference? Let’s find out!
The Left Hand of God – Paul Hoffman
I unreservedly hated this (it’s an old rant, but I stand by it), and I’m not convinced even a dragon would change my mind – unless maybe it was a snarky female dragon who ate everyone and set the world on fire so that I didn’t have to read about it. So, err, yes, there are limits. A quick flick through my other 1 star reviews confirms that dragons wouldn’t help.
Jonathan Strange and Doctor Norrell – Susanna Clarke
Don’t hate me – I know I’m in the minority, but Strange & Norrell bored me to tears. It’s well-written and meticulous and so on, but it went on. And on. And on. Hell, it made The Goldfinch look engaging. But I look at Temeraire and (SPOILER)Sorcerer to the Crown and I suspect a well-deployed dragon would have helped. I doubt one would have made this a favourite, but… it might have offset my Dickensian ennui.
(yes, I’m a heathen who finds Dickens dull too. Although: if Magwitch had been a dragon… Or Fagin. In fact, yes, okay, I appear to be all-out willing to reconsider Dickens with dragons).
Throne of the Crescent Moon – Saladin Ahmed
Another unpopular opinion, but I was disappointed by Crescent Moon: I loved the world-building, I loved Adoulla, but I was put off by the frequent cameos from Basil Exposition, the insta-love and the single dimensions of the supporting cast. However, if Zamia had turned into a dragon… maybe. Just maybe. I’m still not sure I’d have swallowed the romantic subplot.
As I don’t really enjoy dwelling on book I didn’t much like, so it’s time to consider some books that were fine just as they were – but honestly, dragons are like seasoning in cookery: a little sprinkle rarely goes astray.
The Dog Stars – Peter Heller
This was a serviceable post-apocalypse novel, at its best when focusing on the technical details of staying alive (and keeping planes in the air) and at its worst in the gung-ho final act. But what if Hig had been a dragonrider, not a pilot? Or if his gun nut best friend had been a dragon? Different book entirely, but I’m already interested in reading it.
Anyone know any post-apocalyptic dragon novels they can point me at?
The Split Worlds – Emma Newman
HELL YES these books would be even better with dragons. Don’t get me wrong, I like them as they are – frustrating and rage-inducing, as Emma Newman is a mistress of the art of pushing my buttons – but I give you this thought: Cathy on dragonback shouting LET ME SHOW YOU MY FEMINIST AGENDA. Yep, sounds like a winner to me too.
Echoes of the Ascended – Mark Gelineau & Joe King
I enjoy the world of the Ascended novellas (and I’m on tenterhooks to hear about the full length novel in the works), but I can’t deny it: I think it has room for dragons, whether in its pantheon of terrifying monsters or as unlikely allies. Elinor facing down a dragon. Alys stealing from one. Ferran riding one into battle against a Ruin. Roan and Kay defending one.
The Pendragon Legend – Antal Szerb
I chortled through this gothic farce, in which a Hungarian academic becomes embroiled with ancient Gwynedd nobility. The novel takes pots shots at the aristocracy, social climbers, snobby academics, superstitious villagers and supernatural afficionados, whilst dodging murderous fortune-hunters and mysterious alchemists. Really, the only ingredient missing is a dragon.
By way of a nod that some authors got the memo, I’ll finish with a couple of books that were awesome any which way – but added dragons regardless. Well played.
Age of Misrule – Mark Chadbourn
Dragons don’t play a huge role in Chadbourn’s dark, violent vision of a resurgent Faerie seizing control of the world, but their brief appearances are wonderful. They represent wildness and power and magic and life, and they eat cars on the M4. Truly, my heart cockles were toasty.
(SPOILER)The Deverry Cycle – Katharine Kerr
No image on this one as it’s a mid-series plot development, but there’s a certain series that I loved long before it added dragons (and would have remained epic without them), but the cliffhanger introduction of one literally took my breath away. And then the agony of waiting for the next to be published – I still have no words. Good dragons, too. Grumpy. Ferocious. RAR.
Tooth and Claw – Jo Walton
However, the undisputed prize for the addition of dragons has to go to Jo Walton. Long before anyone had the idea of adding zombies to Jane Austen, she wrote a Victorian novel in the style of Trollope, peopled it with dragons and ran away with all the awards. See – dragons. They make everything better.
For the record: there are books with dragons in them that I haven’t enjoyed. Most recently (shockingly!) Tongues of Serpents, the sixth Temeraire instalment, which sorely disappointed me (although it goes without saying that it wasn’t the dragons that let me down. Well, maybe Caesar).
What books do you think would benefit from more dragons? If you’re feeling brave, you can try to persuade me that any book would be better with fewer dragons!