I don’t know about the rest of you, but my favorite fantasy creatures throughout my life are—without question—dragons! I know I’m supposed to like mermaids or unicorns more, and I do like them (I certainly love unicorns as much as it is humanly possible to love anything you’ve never really met) but they cannot compare to dragons. How can they? Dragons can be large or small, they can fly or swim, they can breathe fire or ice, they come in every imaginable color. They can be soft and silky, or sharp and iron-hard. Dragons can be made of rock, or steel, or clouds, or grass. They can live anywhere and eat almost everything, from sheep to diamonds. It all depends on what type of dragon you want, and it will be.
So, to share my love of dragons, I’m going to list my top five favorite dragon books—and the amazing dragons in them!
Starting off with number 5—The Pit Dragons Trilogy by Jane Yolen.
The first book in the Pit Dragons Trilogy, Dragon’s Blood, starts off with a rather odd introduction which explains the history of the planet Austar IV, which was a space penal colony? Okay. It goes on to mention that the planet was a mostly inhospitable desert with few plants and a nearly extinct species of warm-blooded, giant, winged lizards. Dragons! Somehow, the culture developed around domesticating and saving the dragons to be both food/leather resource, and entertainment in violent cock-fights that gave rise to a gambling based economy.
For the rest of the trilogy there is very little mention of the space-faring side of the world culture, mostly references to off-worlders. Everything revolves around dragons—breeding them, raising them, training them, and killing them. The main character, Jakkin Stewart, is a bond-slave—meaning he is owned by a master until he earns enough to fill a coin bag to buy himself free—and he works on a dragon breeding farm. He, like every bonded, knows that the only way to earn freedom is to either toil your whole life, or steal a dragon egg and train a pit champion. As you might have guessed, this is exactly Jakkin’s plan, and my favorite part of the books is the mental link Jakkin forms with his dragon. The dragons in this series are basically intelligent animals, but they are able to connect to their trainer’s mind, allowing these very large, dangerous creatures to be controlled by tiny, weak humans. There are many dark parts—Jakkin and most of the characters are basically slaves, and dragons scream when they’re killed and that never gets easier to read—but overall the story is intense and the dragons are spectacular.
Number 4—The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel
This is a standalone novel about Melayne and her brother Sarrow, trying to find a safe place to live after their parents have been killed by raiders. They face more issues than most orphans would, however, because they are both Talents—people born with a special, unique ability that singles them out for collection by the King’s Guards. Melayne and Sarrow were taught that the King hated Talents, and was searching all the Talents out to kill them, but soon learn that the truth is far more sinister.
Melayne has the gift of Communication, and can speak to any animal alive. This saves her and her brother many times on their journey, and eventually, they find their way to the mysterious castle Dragonhome. Supposedly, dragons are no more than mythical creatures that never existed, but stories about the castle say that dragons used to live in the mountains, and a past Lord of the castle helped slay the last dragons in the whole world. Melayne doesn’t know which story is true, but she’s very curious about dragons, and about the surprisingly young Lord who rules the castle now, and is rumored to disappear into a restricted wing each night with a sack of bloody meat.
Dragons here (yes, of course they’re real!) are animals as well, but with a translator, they become amusing, squabbling children, with a flair for dramatic whining and bloody feeding. The story mainly focuses on Melanye and her eventual romance with a handsome older man, and she is a fun, independent girl who’s not afraid of doing what’s right no matter the danger. But I admit I still love the dragons best!
Number 3—The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
Now here is a series all about dragons! Well, Princesses and their dragons anyway. It starts out in Dealing with Dragons with the Princess Cimorene who is the youngest of seven daughters of the kingdom of Linderwall. She would be a lovely princess, every bit as perfect as her six older sisters, except… she didn’t stop growing and ended up far taller than any husband would like, and she persists in pastimes that are utterly improper for a proper princess. Like fencing and magic and summoning your fairy godmother for quests instead of romance advice. Even worse, she soon finds her parents have arranged a marriage for her to an unbelievably boring prince from the neighboring kingdom.
So, Cimorene does what any improper princess would do, and runs off to an enchanted forest where she seeks the advice of an enchanted frog—not to kiss him, mind you, but for directions. This leads her to volunteering to be the “captive” princess of the dragon Kazul, who is not the sort to go off kidnapping people and is therefore delighted she’ll get a princess to keep without all the fuss of pillaging and burning down villages. What do dragons want with a captive princess, you ask? Why, to cook delicious food and organize their treasure, of course! Cimorene finds this also leaves her plenty of time to read the many books in Kazul’s library. Except of course for when various heroes and knights show up trying to rescue her, and while Kazul may not be up to fighting them off, Cimorene is more then happy to chase the confused young men away with pots and broomsticks.
Obviously, this series revolves around the dragons—Cimorene is the protagonist, but her adventures all focus on helping her dear dragon friend. There is also quite a bit of dragon culture going on–after all, it’s a matter of prestige for a dragon to have their own princess—why some have more than one! So it’s quite the spot of luck for Kazul to get a princess that doesn’t want to leave and will fight off knights all on her own. This really is the most amusing tale, and there are plenty of unique and engaging dragons to enjoy.
Number 2—Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchett (part of the Discworld series)
Now, I could make a list of just about anything from the Discworld series—I love every book set in Discworld. But this list is for dragons and dragons we will stick to! So, while I would recommend you read ALL the Discworld books, I’ll only talk about the one with dragons. It also doesn’t matter much which books you read in the series, because, while certain larger plots connect between books, they are all written so you can read any which one you wish without being lost–and Guards! Guards! is a fun place to start!
The book is set in the city of Ankh-Morpork, one of the oldest cities of Discworld that once was the capital of an empire that ruled just about everywhere. With a king and everything. Now it’s one of the dirtiest cities of Discworld and everyone owes them money. The old throne is empty, while at its base sits the Patrician’s over-encumbered desk where he does all the actual work of ruling.
But, there is a legend that says one day the scion of the King will return, when the city is in peril! In order to make sure this prophecy comes true, a slightly incompetent secret society summons a dragon to put the city in danger. So the king will come and save them from oppression. Which will get them better wages, and less nagging from the wife, and no more yelling bosses. Cause they’ll be the bosses, and they’ll be the ones yelling. Because of course that would work.
So a dragon–a real one, all big and fire breathing and flying around causing a great mess–descends upon the city wrecking havoc. Considering the only dragons anyone in the Discworld has seen for centuries are the tiny, smelly, swamp dragons that are only about the size of large cats, with too small wings, and a definite sulfur issue emitting from both ends, the Dragon causes a bit of a panic. Sort of. The people of Ankh-Morpork can get used to quite a lot before they’ll consider something a problem. Of course, folk getting burned into black shadows on walls might be just that sort of problem.
At least, the Patrician thinks it is, and orders the City Watchmen to investigate and possibly arrest the terrible beast, or at least whoever let it loose. The first place Captain Vimes and his terrified, not-ready-for-this-sort-of-actual-work guards head to find answers is the Morpork Sunshine Sanctuary for Lost Dragons, a passionate life’s calling for the Lady Ramkin and other ladies with a dragon enthusiasm. Because, honesty, dragons make terrible pets. You may think a dragon on your shoulder sounds like a good idea, but those claws hurt, they spew smoke and cinders worse than chimneys, and they smell. So all those buyer remorse dragons get shipped off to the Sanctuary to either find a new, happy home elsewhere, or to live out their lives in the company of other smelly dragons, and plenty of young noble women willing to get their hands dirty mucking out stalls for a cause they love.
Obviously, the larger Dragon is a cool favorite for me, but the smaller, ignoble swamp dragons are surprisingly endearing as well. Even if some of them have bladder issues and sneeze the rug on fire. Even without the more traditional dragon, I would recommend this book for all the small, forgotten swamp dragons, if only because I wish I could join the Sunshine Sanctuary’s list of volunteers.
Number 1—His Majesty’s Dragon: Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Do you love dragons? Do you love historical fantasy? Do you love the Napoleonic War era? Did you answer yes to any one of those? Then this is probably the series for you!
Imagine that dragons not only exist, but are intelligent, and have been evolving right alongside humans for the whole of history. Imagine how cultures shape around them–how the East view dragons as good, lucky, and protective, while the West view them as evil, hoarding, and dangerous. Fast-forward to the Napoleonic Wars, where European countries “tame” and harness dragons to service in the air-force, and corral the “wild” ones in reserves. Asian countries, on the other hand, treat them as citizens, able to hold jobs, pay taxes, and enlist in the army the same as humans.
This is the world Temeraire was hatched into, a Chinese dragon claimed as a prize from a French ship by a British ship. He soon chooses William Laurence as his Captain, and the two enter the Royal Air Force. As the series progresses, dragons and cultures from all over the world are explored, from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Americas to Australia. Everywhere dragons have evolved in different ways, and how they are integrated and treated by humans changes with the culture. Some dragons are seen as little more than beasts, others rule over kingdoms of humans that are treasured like bobbles. Throughout it all are Temeraire and Laurence, possibly my favorite human-dragon team of all time!
So there you have it, my five favorite dragon books, and the awesome dragons in them! What are your favorite dragon books? Favorite dragon? Let me know any amazing dragons I should check out!