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Sunday, March 17, 2019

DRAGONWORLD by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves

Originally published in 1979.
Illustrations by Joseph Zucker.

art from the book
Way back in 1985, I bought a paperback copy of this book at Viewpoint Books - a great store in Columbus, Indiana. I sold it to a used book store a few years later and I forgot all about it. A couple of years ago, I found a copy at a thrift store and I snatched it up, feeling like I had found a relic from my past. I remembered that I loved the beginning of the book and I loved the pictures (there are more than 80 pencil drawings throughout the book), but I couldn't remember anything else about it.

So, I finally got around to reading this book and I have determined that I did not finish the book 34 years ago. I remembered the first 30 pages or so but everything else was a surprise - and not a particularly good one (with the exception of the aforementioned drawings - they are quite excellent).

The book is set in a world with two continents separated by a narrow strait of very volatile water. The eastern continent, Simbala, is filled with people that are like Tolkien's rangers and people that are sort of like elves (but they are still people). They live in the woods and in the forests. They fly air ships, which are sort of like hot air balloons. They also dig deep mines (which is not like elves, I know, but this is barely touched on in the book). The western continent, Fandora, is full of people that are sort of like Tolkien's hobbits mixed with his dwarves. They are farmers, villagers and fishermen.

Fandora is horrified by the sudden violent death of two of its young people. It looks like both are attacked from above, so it is assumed that Simbalese air ships have crossed the strait and attacked them. The Fandoran villages unite and build a ragtag army to cross the sea.

*******Spoliers ahead**********

Meanwhile, a similar attack has hit the people of Simbala. This is where the story gets bogged down. Simbala has an elderly monarch and an extensive royal family but the king has done an unpopular thing (but, then again, maybe it's popular - it depends on the page). He has appointed a miner to be king. The miner is quick-thinking and acted to save the country from an attack by underground creatures (think hobgoblins from Lord of the Rings) and their wolf-things. There is a dramatic build-up to deal with some sort of problem with the mines, but it is dropped and never brought up again.

(still more spoilers)

The new king is named Hawkwind and he is an amazingly talented individual. Not only is he an excellent miner, he also had time to learn how to sword fight, how to hunt, how to track things in the wilderness, how to ride horses better than anyone, train that horse to fight alongside him, learn military tactics, learn military strategy, learn diplomacy, acquire a complete education of the lore of his kingdom, romance a gypsy princess and train a hawk to fly around and fight alongside him. No wonder he was made king! Imagine Aragon from Lord of the Rings but make him take a full job as a miner in his spare time.

(one last paragraph of spoilers)

Enter the dragons. Actually, they are coldrakes, which are like dragons, but dumb. Kind of like chimpanzees when compared to humans. There is a mixed breed dragon/coldrake (don't think too long about my previous comparison of humans and chimps) that is worried about the future of the coldrakes. He is moving them from the frigid north to the human-filled south (and he killed the children of Simbala and Fandora, causing the war). He is the most interesting character because he is doing bad things in a misguided effort to save his own kind. But, in the end, he is quickly dispatched.

*************End spoilers*********

By far, the best part of this book is the pictures.

The real problem of this book is that it should have been a trilogy. The situation in the mines could have been addressed. The war could have been more fleshed out. The dragon/coldrake issue could have been a book by itself. Plus, there's a hint of a sequel that never happened. 

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: DRAGONWORLD by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves.

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