Book Report: Dragon’s Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn

October 1, 2008 at 1:46 pm (Books Galore) ()

So I just finished another book. Hrm. Well, I’ve learned that once books are started I have a REALLY hard time putting them down again. Some kernel in my soul is a completionist, apparently.

But I’m not supposed to be blabbering about that. The book. It was Dragon’s Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn who, I understand, is more famed for her sci-fi than fantasy. Also, there’s another book after–Dragon’s Treasure–that I’ve yet to read. I’ll just copy a plot synopsis from Amazon:

Karadur and Tenjiro are twin sons of Kojiro Antani, the dragon lord of Ippa. But only Karadur, whose name means “fire-bringer,” bears the blood of the dragon in his veins. His younger brother, Tenjiro or “Heaven’s hope,” was second out of the womb and is the weakest and smallest of the two. As the twins grow to maturity, Karadur is anxious to attain the promise of his blood and transform into the dragon he is capable of becoming. But Tenjiro, who bears the scars of Karadur’s claws, resents his older brother and, on the eve of Karadur’s transformation, steals the talisman that makes the change possible. That same night he disappears, fleeing to a distant, icy realm where he will reemerge as a powerful wizard bent on destroying his older brother. But Karadur, lord of Dragon Keep, is prepared to go to war against Tenjiro, and it’s likely only one will survive.

(the synopsis fails to mention that Karadur has a lover, a man named Azil, who Tenjiro magics into following him in order to…well, you can probably guess. Or read the book.

Note that the book doesn’t have anything on the smut front. But the relationship is there.)

So her writing style is…I want to say sparse, but she crams in a surprising number of details; the world she crafts feels whole, alive; there are myths and legends; there are people who aren’t quite primary but not quite secondary and are wholly human. No person is cardboard. The world breathes.

And yet, on the characterization side of things…Lynn’s style is very much a fill-in-the-blanks style. She gives you the bare bones, the outlines, she implies what people are thinking and who they are with details, but leaves it to you to fill in the gaps between. It’s interesting, because I kept expecting her to make the pain of Karadur and Azil explicit–yet I wonder if any amount of explicitness on her part could match what I could do in my head. I’m unsure if I consider this a flaw or mastery on her part. You can’t just read; you’ll get only the surface: you need to think to unpack the characters. For example:

Karadur is presented as an implacable figure, just but with a temper. He never seems to pause–but at least twice in the book he stops to ask one of his older guardsmen: what would his father do in such a situation?

Now, Lynn doesn’t outright say or show Karadur’s uncertain of his path (at times it’s hard to remember his age; I believe he’s really about twenty-three towards the books end but he feels so much older) when faced with difficult choices, but just the fact that this normally implacable, impassive warrior and leader should ask for advice is telling that he needs some help, isn’t it? And he asks specifically about his father–well, Karadur’s mother didn’t survive birth and his father died when he was four; his father was a well-known lord and leader in his time. Therefore, Karadur must hold his father in high esteem, despite the circumstances of his death. So from these two offhand incidents we know: Karadur is still young and not always certain of what he’s doing, and Karadur respects and admires his father’s decisions. But none of this is said outright.

Plot-wise, it really zipped along. Things happened, there was no lag but there was never any confusion, either. I knew exactly what was happening, and once the plot pieces fell into pace I could see the shape of what was happening clear enough. In some ways this is good; it makes for an engrossing read. In some ways it’s not so good; I would have preferred some more about Karadur and Azil’s relationship, as well as Karadur’s relationship to Tenjiro. In contrast to the time spent building up Wolf’s life (which eventually proved necessary to the plot, but still) everything else felt like it moved at doubletime. I don’t know if this is good or bad: clearly this is a plot-driven story, not character-driven, and yet. I wanted to see a little more of them, I wanted to linger a little longer at those lulls in the action and see the author dig a little deeper into the characters before my eyes.

Final note: Amazon consensus seems to read it as your traditional European-medieval setting. For me, some of the details seem to point otherwise: the name Tenjiro, for example, means “heaven’s hope.” The Japanese word for heaven is “ten.” And then there’re the twins’ nicknames for each other; Kaji and Tenji. Both have a vaguely Japanese feel to them–but the twins are blond. The myth Wolf recites to Thea also seems to have a vaguely Chinese bent to it; reminds me of the story about how the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen. There’s really nothing to say one way or another in the story, so you could read it one way or another. I’m not sure what image I have in my mind yet myself.

TL;DR — Overall definitely a good read; characters interesting, world fascinating, plot intriguing. I’m definitely looking for the sequel ASAP. Highly recommended.

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