The Summer Dragon
– First Book of the Evertide
Release Date: May 3, 2016
I first noticed Todd Lockwood as the artist who created such amazing illustrations for Marie Brennan’s “A Natural History of Dragons” series. The cover artwork alone instantly established the sense of antiquity and nobility present in the narrative. Further research showed me that he has created illustrations for more than just literary works: his galleries includes images for Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, and more.
So it seemed almost fitting that his debut novel would be an epic fantasy including dragons – and that those dragons are glorious.
The central character of The Summer Dragon is young Maia, the only daughter and youngest child of Magha, the Broodmaster of Gadia, whose family for generations has run dragon aeries for warlords, then kings, and now the Emperor of Gurvaan. She and her brother Darian are finally of an age where they could bond with and care for their own dragons, and they are hoping that on Brood Day, the Ministry buyers will allow two qits (dragon babies) to be left behind, so as to established a new breeding pair at the aerie. Both Maia and Darian have their eye on a baby dragon of their heart’s desire, even though they know that most likely the Emperor will claim all the babies for his Dragonry; after all, the country is at war, and dragons are a key part of the war effort.
But the day before Brood Day, when the aerie is frantically working at getting everything ready for the official visit, an unexpected and frightening accident takes place, for which Maia is blamed. Heart sore and frustrated, she and Darian set off to check the traps set in the surrounding countryside; it is there that they see a marvelous sight: a huge dragon, resplendent in scales “colored like the sunset on a bronzed ocean horizon, with tinges of green at the edges of the wings and frill. It had horns like the twisted trunks of trees, and muscles that rippled with every least movement.”
The youngsters are thunderstruck; the air is filled with electricity. And then the dragon turns and looks right at Maia.
His eyes were molten copper orbs, the slits narrowed against the strong light. He fixed me with a look of stern evaluation, and I sensed an import, a sad urgency that I could not define. Time stopped as I tried to make meaning out of this strangely intimate gaze. My heart didn’t beat, my breath caught in my chest. Then the magnificent head dipped slightly, as if in acknowledgement of something, and he launched into the sky with a loud crack of leather and rush of air. He disappeared beyond the crest of the hill.
Maia is convinced that she and Darian have seen a High Dragon, one of great religious significance, perhaps even Gertig, the Summer Dragon himself. The sighting portends big changes – but neither Darian nor Maia are ready for the changes that come to pass, even before they return to their mountaintop home.
So begins an immense tale that encompasses many seamlessly woven themes: the coming of age story of a remarkable young woman who still harbors self-imposed guilt over her mother’s death; horrific battles with corrupted creatures both man and beast (and even more hideous perversions of both), and an evil that can invade its victims’ very minds; the threat of a politically powerful state religion whose clerics zealously impose their iron will, forcing adherents of an older, more holistic faith to vanish underground or risk fervent persecution; the dynamics of family and love; the search for truth and light when it seems like the darkness will prevail; the friction between compassion and necessity. All of this occurs against the backdrop of the care and raising of dragons, a glimpse into their social structure and relationships, and the incredible sense of partnership between a dragon and its rider, all lovingly and intricately detailed by an author who makes this world seem not only plausible, but real.
It’s a masterfully told story, with scenes of daily life amongst dragons juxtaposed against the turmoil of war and the changes it forces upon those caught up in its conflict. Of harried fathers and quarrelsome brothers, of dynamics between a wife and husband, between priest and acolyte, of a girl on the cusp of adulthood whose indomitable will matches only her open heart. And dragons. Glorious, powerful, amazing dragons.
I did struggle at times with the book. Much of the fiercest action takes place in a massive cave – or perhaps a series of caves? – that seemed never-ending in the dangers lurking within or, alternately, where wonders were continuously revealed. Unable to come to terms with that underground environment, I finally just accepted that there would be another room, another tunnel, another great cavern that would open up, to be retreated into, clambered up, snuck through, marveled at, cornered in, or madly raced across. And, there was an element in the text that I call “uber leetness,” where the hero is able to, time and time again, go beyond what a body could normally endure. To be stressed or exhausted or injured, and still persevere. To suddenly be able to call on latent abilities only when they are the only way to escape certain death. Sure, some amount of this can be exciting, but when the phrase, “I don’t know how, but I….” occurs too often, the willing suspension of disbelief is frayed to the breaking point, and mine broke in a few places, marring what would have been an otherwise superlative narrative.
Still, with such a sweeping scope, these are trifles; something that might ping a five star review down to four stars but still keep the novel highly, enthusiastically recommended – which I do, wholeheartedly. No word yet on when the next book of this series is set to drop, but you can count on me to be one of the first in line when it does.
And besides – it has dragons! Wonderful, glorious, larger than life and yet utterly believable dragons! What more needs to be said?
~ Sharon Browning