From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: James Maxey’s Dragonseed

Here’s my theory: dragons will be the next pirates.

Just as a few years ago, everyone was doing pirate stories, and novels, and cartoons (and movies, of course), some point soon, the notion of dragons will swoop into the Zeitgeist and take over everyone’s imagination. It’ll require some works to launch this, of course, and dragons in such series as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series may be the main impetus. But James Maxey’s dragons will be right up there battling it out as well.

Dragonseed is the final volume of Maxey’s trilogy, the Dragon Age novels, which begins with Bitterwood and continues with Dragonforge. Readers will find the book eminently more satisfying if they’ve read the other two, as seems perfectly reasonable with trilogies. The books will be taken by the unwary to be fantasy, but when nanotechnology rears its head, it become evident that, like the dragons of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, these dragons come from the realm of science fiction.

Maxey’s strengths include the believability of his characters and their mixed motivations. Jandra, raised by dragons, struggles with that background and has difficulty identifying with her fellow humans at first. Bitterwood, dragon killer extraordinaire and one of the heroes of the Human rebellion, is dour, unforgiving, and sometimes moved by nostalgia for a former, simpler existence. This holds true for the dragons as well, whether they are struggling with a religious conversion, a thirst for power, or even guilt over the subjugation of another race.

Grittiness and visceral physicality of detail is another signature of the books: fights are shown in gory but often dispassionate detail, and the world is rendered in a thousand shades of dirtiness. This attention to nuance gives the book a grim realism that accentuates its fantastic nature, and the struggle between those two forces make it capable of gripping the reader’s attention with talons as tenacious as those of an earth-dragon.

Occasionally, references to contemporary culture seem a little jarring, such as the names of three long-wyrm riders: Meshach, Shadrach, and Guido, or the treehugger speech patterns of a “goddess” who turns out to be a transplant from earlier, Human-ruled times. But this is a small quibble, and easily overlooked by a reader entranced by the strong personalities of the characters, whose inevitable collisions drive the narrative.

If you like dragons, well-developed characters, or just well-fleshed out and intriguing worlds, I recommend this series.

Cat Rambo is the managing editor of Fantasy Magazine. Her website appears at http://www.kittywumpus.net. Her collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight and collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories can both be found on Amazon.com. She likes to read. A lot.

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