Book Review : The Summer Dragon

Book Review : The Summer DragonThe Summer Dragon (The Evertide, #1) by Todd Lockwood
Published by DAW on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 496
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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three-half-stars

The debut novel from the acclaimed illustrator—a high fantasy adventure featuring dragons and deadly politics.
Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she anticipates a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon—one of the rare and mythical High Dragons—makes an appearance in her quiet valley. Political factions vie for control of the implied message, threatening her aspirations, her aerie, her entire way of life.
The bond between dragons and their riders is deep and life-long, and Maia’s desire for a dragon of her own to train, ride, fly, and love drives her to take a risk that puts her life at stake. She is swept into an adventure that pits her against the deathless Horrors, thralls of the enemy, and a faceless creature drawn from her fear. In her fight to preserve everything she knows and loves, she exposes a conspiracy, unearths an ancient civilization, and challenges her understanding of her world—and of herself.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Summer Dragon, as it is author Todd Lockwood’s first novel, well, at least as the author—he’s actually quite the renowned artist. As such, it’s no surprise that his beautiful artwork graces both the gorgeous cover of the novel and its equally arresting pages. However, if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of The Summer Dragon, I found I loved the contents of the novel just as much as its cover. That is not to say the novel is perfect, and the writing is definitely not on the level of contemporaries such as Patrick Rothfuss or Brandon Sanderson, but I adored The Summer Dragon nonetheless. 

 

Listen to me: Everything is going to change, has changed already. Imagine–Getig, the Summer Dragon in our mountains. Something tells that this is the last normal night of your life, of all our lives.”

 

The Summer Dragon follows Maia, only daughter of the broodmaster at the Riat aerie. Maia has grown up in a world that revolves entirely around dragons—breeding them, raising them, training them, and riding them—but she doesn’t yet have one of her own. Luckily, this year she and her brother Darian are finally of age to receive their own dragons, but things don’t go quite as planned. Nightmarish creatures known as Horrors, have struck another aerie, destroying it and all of its dragons used to supply the Dragonry. The military needs the dragons of Riat aerie more than ever before, and cannot relinquish a single qit to poor Maia. But in an ultimate stroke of fate, the mythical high Summer Dragon appears before Maia, setting off a chain reaction of events at the aerie that will challenge and change everything about Maia’s world. 

 

I was impressed at Lockwood’s debut novel. Despite having a tendency to tell and not show, The Summer Dragon is a pretty polished work and clearly a labor of love. However, the novel is not without pacing issues and lacks the complexity of adult fantasy novels. The main cast of characters is not the most developed ever, but Maia and her brother, Darian are the most complex. Admittedly, if you are a believer in “Mary-Sues,” you may struggle with just how “special” Maia is, but it did not lessen my enjoyment of The Summer Dragon. It’s also worth noting that the further outside of the family readers get, the more the characters tend towards tropes than actual development—probably due to the telling-not-showing-writing style, which is also only from Maia’s perspective. For instance, there’s the mysterious woodsman who asks Maia how her shadows are and speaks in riddles, the wise old mentor who has more to him than meets the eye, the ignorant and entitled older brother/heir who thinks he knows best, the troubled sister-in-law struggling to find her footing in the family, and the tough, battle hardened father who secretly has a heart of gold. 

 

Plus, lots of things take place and get resolved “off-camera,” which frustrated me. This consequently made the characters feel less fleshed out and more like plot devices to be dropped or picked up at the author’s leisure. Some of this could probably be chocked up to the sole narration and perspective of a teenage girl focused on herself. With Maia’s age in mind, perhaps that’s why the parts of The Summer Dragon surrounding relationships, whether romantic or not, felt awkward, less refined, and more reminiscent of young adult fantasy than high fantasy. In fact, without the intense theological discussions, The Summer Dragon truly would have read exactly like young adult fantasy—with all of the writing and motivations of characters spelled out for readers. Although parts of the writing may be somewhat lacking, The Summer Dragon has plenty of heart, and when it describes dragons, it positively shines. 

 

Bond marks were important–the most important cravings of them all. They enhanced communication,intensified instinctive cooperation, nurtured the bond between a rider and his mount. Every dragon and rider had one, on the nape of his or her neck, a circular pattern of runes and other symbols.”

 

 I’ve read a lot of dragon novels, a countless number of which revolve around showing the bond between dragonrider and dragon, but The Summer Dragon managed to make that bond unique and exciting, using bond marks and shared languages, and focusing a lot on the daily life at the aerie living among dragons, which I found fascinating. Every single dragon has a personality of its own and I adored it. The way they are described makes them somehow as familiar as a pet dog, but also as majestic as the legendary creatures they truly are. Plus, there’s wild dragons, High Dragons, nurse dragons, dragons that are worshipped as gods, warrior dragons, dragons that can use flame, and so much more. It was pure heaven for a dragon lover and I was brought to tears on more than one occasion by the descriptions of the creatures. (This is my way of telling you my review is very biased as a dragon lover and though I gave it a higher rating because I subjectively loved it, thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole, could see myself rereading it and reading future entries in the series.).

 

I saw Korruzun that one time….He was amazing. A gigantic presence, dark and inspiring and terrible and uplifting all at once. But if I hadn’t, I might believe that all talk of High Dragons was foolishness to keep the weak-minded in shackles.”

 

What’s more, is that Lockwood establishes an ancient civilization and religion that defies the current one, creating complex moral struggles and religious issues at the heart of the novel. The Evertide and its cyclical nature, represented by seasonal High dragons, put me to mind of The Wheel of Time, but with dragons. However, I felt that even after tons of theological discussions, like Maia, I didn’t quite grasp the religion of The Summer Dragon, which focuses on truth and uncertainty. I guess those types of concepts would be pretty hard to define in an appendix or glossary, but boy, do I wish one had been included in this novel so I could try to better grasp terms like avar. 

 

Besides missing an appendix or glossary, I did think that some of the world-building was a bit lacking and more characteristic of a young adult fantasy than an adult fantasy, which tends to go into much greater detail. For instance, readers are given a lovely world map at the beginning of the book, but we never learn much at all of the world outside of the aerie—and when we do venture outside of the aerie, it’s typically confined to the immediate mountains or forests surrounding it. We know there’s a capital city Avigal, but we don’t know anything about it, other than that there is a religious school there and that Maia is constantly getting threatened with being dragged off there if she doesn’t behave. Likewise, readers don’t learn much about the Empire or Korruzun, the High Dragon that the entire world worships, or even how this awful war started and when. Since Maia doesn’t know much of the world, neither do readers, which is more typical of a young adult fantasy than an adult fantasy novel.  

 

Though The Summer Dragon reads more like young adult fantasy, as a dragon lover, I found it highly enjoyable. Is it the best fantasy novel written? No. But is it a solid debut novel with an interesting world and religions, and most importantly, dragons? Yes. Despite not having much world-building, and having an unevenly developed cast of characters, there is more than enough going on in the Aerie with Maia to keep readers busy. And I have a feeling that future entries in the series will explore more of the outside world and its religions. I cannot wait to read them!

three-half-stars
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Book Review : The Summer Dragon - Blogging with Dragons

Posted September 21, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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