Monday, July 21, 2008

Dragonlight by Donita Paul: Of Quests, Heretics and Cuddly Dragons

Dragonlight by Donita Paul proves among other things, that dragons can be cuddly. The lead character in the book, a light wizard named Kale, is a dragonkeeper. Her job is to help rebuild the dragon population in the land of Amarna by assisting in the hatching, nurturing and bonding with the various types of dragons which populate this world along with the seven "high races." Amarna is recovering from a period of warfare and times are relatively peaceful. So, Kale, her husband Sir Bardon, an entourage of dragons including the cuddly ones Kale keeps in the pocket of her remarkable wizard's cape, set off on a quest to find a colony of Meech dragons who are rumored to have come from another world and who had the ability to speak. Two meech dragons, Reginor and Gilda accompany the troup on their quest so tha Gilda can deliver her egg among her people.

Of course, things are not going to be that peaceful. A group of heretics, called the Followers, are forming a cult persuading people that they have a corner on the word from "Wulder" (the Amarnan word for God), which is actually delivered to a theocratic figure called "Paladin." Also, there are these tiny black dragons appearing out of nowhere stinging and attacking people (and particularly the dragonkeeper) with no rhyme or reason. Certainly, this time of peace is going to be anything but peaceful.

Coming in on the last book in a five book series, you do a good deal of catching up. However, Paul does a fair job of creating a good stand alone read. She has included a cast of characters in the front and a glossary in the back. I found myself using these resources frequently as new creatures like the tiny Kimmens and the furry doneels appeared. At times keeping the seven high races and the various types of dragons separate was a bit of a chore for a newcomer to the series.

Paul presents us with an enjoyable, light weight story with lots of action and fun. She creates a fairly complex world with a fairy tale feel to it. The book certainly feels like a good young adult novel. This is Disney and not Spielberg. This book won't challenge you to think much. That's not a criticism, just a description. Sometimes you don't want to think, just have some fun reading a rousing romp. There is no complexity here, just a fun story.

However, I would like to have seen more character development in this story. Except for two secondary characters most of the main characters end up the story pretty much as they started out. They tend to be rather too stereotypical in parts and I would like to see some of them struggle a bit more making decisions. It almost seems as though if one had a crisis of faith, they would be cast into outer darkness rather than allowed to struggle through it.

Also, there are times when we see a bit of sermonizing rather than letting the story itself convey the message. Here's an example: Reginor, a meech dragon, is speaking of his wife Guilda, whom he loves, but she tends to be self-centered:

"I want Gilda to discover joy again. I want her to see her self-destruction. I love her and want to shake her to make me see how her hold on life is riddled with falsehoods, and it is those lies that are killing her. She doesn't listen. She doesn't believe. there is no way I can tie her to a post and keep her from slipping away"

Kale touched his hand, "I think Wulder must feel that way at times.

Okay, Kale makes the point. This would be a good stopping point, but, no, Kale continues:

"He has always given us reason to draw near, always fed us truth through word and deed. Yet we, as his people, continue to harbor false expectations trading a glorious reality for a shabby imitation of truth"

This extra two sentances steal from the reader their own interpretation by spelling out for the reader exactly what they are supposed to learn. That is fine for a book of devotions or a Bible study, but fiction needs to be more subtle.

I have two other concerns about this book in terms of content. First, a major part of the plot centers on a likeable scoundrel named Holt who infiltrates this cult of "Followers," pretends to be one of them, and eventually, leads a rescue of some and the destruction of their village. While undercover spying and deception is a staple of secular fiction, I have serious concerns when it appears in Christian ficiton. After all, such a deception would, of necessity, require the spy to tell bald faced lies. I know it is for a good cause, but one can always find a "good cause" to sin. "I slept with him because I love him," "I embezzled money from our business because our family was facing bankruptcy," "We tortured those prisoners because we needed information," "I killed that doctor because he performed abortions."

Justification of deception troubles me even when used in a "good cause." It is way too easy for a young person to read this and take away the message that it is sometimes okay to lie, if your motives are pure.

A second concern is that near the end of the book, the cult of "Followers" who will not renounce their beliefs are arrested. Some did kidnap others and hold children captive, but to be arrested just for holding heretical views is troubling. At one time Christians were considered heretics and are still considered such in some countries. Being a Pentecostal Christian, I know that some other Christians consider some of our doctrines heretical, as some Pentecostals consider Catholicism. While God is perfect at judging doctrine, we not always are. Besides repression of heresy rarely works. It makes the heretics martyrs and strengthens the resolve of "the faithful" in persecution.

Putting these concerns aside however, I found the book an enjoyable read for anyone who is not looking for depth of character or complexity of plot. It's just a book to enjoy reading by the sea on a summer afternoon with your pitcher of ice tea by your side.

To read other reviews drop by one of the other reviewers on the July CSFF blog tour:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Terri Main
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams


Blogger Valerie Comer said...

Terri, I really appreciated your review of DragonLight. Very well thought out. I haven't read this fifth book yet (just finished book four!) so I can't comment on the specifics. Thanks for not making a canned post!

July 21, 2008 at 5:55 PM  
Blogger Brandon Barr said...

Hi Terri,

Good insight as always. I found most people really enjoyed the book where I came away unsatisfied.

I guess I'm used to a different brand of fantasy fiction.

July 21, 2008 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

I think you have to come to this from the right perspective. This is a YA book. I saw all the characters as cartoons in a Disney film. That's all this is. This isn't high fiction, but it's a good way to kill an afternoon. It's definitely written for 13 year old girls.

Within that context, it's okay. Would I go out and buy the rest of the series? No. But if I was 13, I might.


July 22, 2008 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Hey, Terri,

A thoughtful post as always. I thought you really nailed it when you said an enjoyable, light weight story with lots of action and fun. She creates a fairly complex world with a fairy tale feel to it. The book certainly feels like a good young adult novel. This is Disney and not Spielberg.

I compared it in one of my comments to Princess Bride, a new fairy tale, if you will, with humor and a light-hearted conflict.

Consequently I didn't think anything about Holt inflitrating the Followers, especially since his lying is merely an assumption. In this all-conflict-resolves-easily world, I don't find it hard to believe that Holt didn't lie. Actually him being a philanderer is more troubling to me, but I accepted that because he was wayward.

He's one of the characters that changed. So did Toopka, Gilda, Kale. Bardon not so much. Regidor either. I don't know if all the characters can or should be changed at the end.

Anyway, I appreciated your thorough review, Terri.


July 23, 2008 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

I came across your comment on the Universe Today blog, you show mor e sense than a lot of scientists. Good that you read a lot of fantasy!

July 28, 2008 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Terri said...

Thanks for the comments. I try to be sensible and fair when giving a review. Too many "reviewers" are either recommenders or trashers and provide the reader with very little information with which to make a buying decision.

Actually, though, I read more science fiction than fantasy. I have an especial affection for writers who are reasonably true to the science in their writing. Maybe that's where that 'sensible' streak comes from.


July 28, 2008 at 9:41 AM  

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