As you can see from the second of Ben Baldwin’s superb new covers for the Aldabreshin Compass series, this book has dragons! Big dragons. Dangerous dragons. As those who’ve already read The Thief’s Gamble can tell you, dragons in Einarinn can be truly devastating. And for those who’ve read The Thief’s Gamble and still have a whole load of unanswered questions about dragons in this world, rest assured you will find answers in this book. Some answers, anyway.
Dragons really are the archetypal epic fantasy monster. They feature in some of my very favourite books and series, as far back as I can recall. Was Smaug the first one I encountered? Smaug the Terrible, as proved by his merciless destruction of Lake Town, for all that he amused himself chatting to Bilbo beforehand. Or was it the Ice Dragon, Groliffe, in the Saga of Noggin the Nog? He’s Honorary Treasurer of the Dragons’ Friendly Society, you know. So dragons that communicate and co-operate were among my earliest childhood encounters as well.
That duality’s been there through my subsequent fantasy reading. Anne McCaffrey’s dragons on Pern; mighty beasts yet telepathic and empathetic. On the other hand, the massive, murderous creatures of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and subsequent books. The devastating dragon out to destroy Ankh Morpork in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, alongside the pathetic swamp dragons of Lady Sybil’s Sunshine Sanctuary. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series has any number of breeds of dragons, ranging from the brutish and violent to the intelligent and cultured – and just as many different ways for humans to interact with them. Dragons in the Harry Potter universe on the other hand, all seem to be terrifying and lethal, whatever their breed. Robin Hobb’s dragons will co-operate with humans as long as doing so suits their own purposes, or just their current whim, but any ‘keeper’ who thinks they’re in charge is likely to get a surprise. Morkeleb the Black offers Jenny Waynest untold gifts in Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane, but at what cost? We’re still waiting to see which side of the scales George RR Martin’s dragons will come down on, in A Song of Ice and Fire, but Daenerys Targaryen really had better keep her wits about her, don’t you think?
What about the myths that spawned all these fantasy beasts? Manifestations of the Universal Monster Template? I’ve been reading about them in books of folklore for just as long as I’ve been reading fantasy fiction. Not only the tales of Fafnir and Siegfried and such which inspired Tolkien and CS Lewis in varying ways, or the umpteen variations on St George’s story. Every English county seems to have its own local subspecies of dragon – The Lambton Worm (County Durham), The Mordiford Wyvern (Herefordshire), The Wantley Dragon (Yorkshire), to name but a few. The iconic red dragon of Wales, intertwined with the myth of Merlin and Arthur, is only one Celtic dragon myth, alongside the Dundee dragon, the Oilliphéist in Ireland fleeing St Patrick, and many more. Towns and villages right across Europe have tales of similar local beasts, usually spreading blight and destruction, with an appetite for young maidens. All so very different to ethereal oriental dragons with their ties to nature and the elements.
It sometimes seems a wonder that any fantasy author would write about anything else. I’ve only mentioned a few of the best known books on my shelves here, so feel free to flag up your own favourite books with dragons in comments. Fellow authors, by all means offer a brief introduction to your own take on the beasts.
What does using such an iconic monster mean for a fantasy author? Well, as with so many of these archetypal genre elements, the challenge is staying true to the core tradition while still finding something at least a little new and different to bring to the mythology. Above all else, as a reader, I find it’s essential for the beast have a convincing role within a fantasy world and an integral reason for its presence in the story. Not just being shoehorned in because someone once said a book with a dragon on the front sells more copies…
So what’s this particular dragon’s role in Northern Storm? You’ll have to read the book to find out, and all being well, the ebook edition will be rolled out across the various sellers over the next week or so. Keep an eye out for updates.