SC Poe's Indie Ebook Sampler, # 9
Scores of dragons fly the Internets. But few soar. Many are weighed down by excessive world-building or rambling internal monologue. Grammar and usage often hang in tatters. Crucial parts of the story engine (such as character development) may be missing. Even on some of the liveliest and fleetest, the scales need a good polish.
But dragon lovers seem willing to take a leap and ride whatever lumpish, slow steeds are available, for five-star reviews abound. Lured by this excess of glitter, Poe sampled more than three dozen dragon novels. The highest flyers were listed last December. Today Poe presents the runners up. Each comes with a caution, but (in Poe's view) still flies high enough to reward many readers.
A Dragon Forsaken
(The Enchanted Island Series)
By Krystal McLaughlin
Self-published March, 2011
Poe thinks this is upper YA urban fantasy
First sentence: I could hear my prey running.
This story is raw in several senses. Its shape-shifting MC prowls mean streets. There are several racy episodes. And the writing's rough around the edges. Steffanie Hobelman, credited as editor, has many blind spots. Yet Poe found the author's voice vigorous, direct, and compelling enough to overcome such snags. That's saying a lot, for Poe is touchy about niceties. (The past tense of drag is not drug.)
This is the second book in a series about the various young residents of "a sort of under-aged bed and breakfast" on a mysterious island off the coast of Mystic, CT. Most of the series' teenagers awaken gradually to their magical potential. Daphne's different—she always knew she was a dragon.
The MC's hot, reptilian nature is evident: as a girl, she's bold and seductive; as dragon, she breathes literal fire. (And her seductions are calculated. Daphne's heart is as hard as if it, too, were scale-plated.) The sample left Poe wanting to know who this dragon was battling—and why.
Rated S for Snapped Up.
The Dragon Whisperer
By Joyce Ware
Self-published November, 2011
Poe thinks this is older MG contemporary humor/fantasy
First sentence: The whole crazy business began after I collided with a New York City taxi cab.
Seventh-grader Ted narrates his adventure in a pitch-perfect voice not meant for adults to overhear. He's a voluble Manhattanite, sophisticated and snarky. After he's hit by that taxi, Ted's banished to an upstate farm to recuperate while his parents take off on a working tour of Europe. Craving a pet that he'll be allowed to keep, he spends his savings on eggs that are supposed to hatch into exotic tropical birds. But an extra egg arrives in the packing crate. . . . According to the blurb, Ted and the farm-girl next door will struggle to raise the hatchling from an "eternally hungry ugly baby to a feisty teen-aged pony-size silver-feathered dragon yearning to fly free."
Ted can take a while to get to his plot points, but the ramble is always entertaining. The setting is real, down to the stink of chicken droppings, so the magic should prove even more special, by contrast. (The sample ends while we're still waiting for the mystery egg to hatch. We're also still waiting to meet the farm-girl.)
NOTE: Some parents will object to a sprinkling of barnyard language and four-letter expletives (one in French).
Rated Q for Queued to read later.
Owen and the Dragon
By Carla Mooney
Soto Publishing, 2010
Poe thinks this is younger MG contemporary fantasy
First sentences: It's not fair. I didn't ask to move here.
Marooned in a new town, 10-year-old Owen will find adventure in the woods behind his house. Sentence by sentence, the writing is polished and professional. But the sample, at least, could use more dramatic tension. It opens with Owen ruminating on his woes and bored by a meeting with the garrulous girl-next-door. Owen does notice a light flickering in the woods, but waits a whole day (and a whole chapter) to find out what it might be. This gentle pace might not hook reluctant readers. But the cover promises a dragon, and more patient readers will be willing to wait for it.
NOTE: Soto appears to be a small indie press that provides a technical platform for self-publishing.
Rating: If your young middle-grader loves reading as well as dragons, then this story should please.
(The Dragon Stone Saga)
By Kristian Alva
Defiant Press, 2011
Poe thinks this is YA fantasy
First sentences: The mountain air was chilly, and the sun had already set. Rosy light filled the valley as dusk settled on the mountainside. Thirteen men crouched warily in the low brush.
The Prologue is splashed with the blood of dragon nestlings. In this story's world, dragons are hunted with the help of mages, and few survive.
In Chapter 1, oddly, the story slows down and reads like historical realism. 15-year-old Elias plods through medieval mud to deliver herb medicines, and makes nourishing soup for his failing grandmother. Bits of exposition often halt the action, and by sample end, we're still waiting for Elias to catch a whiff of dragon breath. But the writing is polished, the world is interesting, and we empathize with the loyal lad who takes up the family trade, even though healing is more properly women's work.
Rating: If you appreciate a character-driven fantasy, then this sample seems to promise one.
Born to be a Dragon
(Dragons Forever series)
By Eisley Jacobs
Self-published in 2011
Poe thinks this is MG contemporary fantasy
First sentence: Lightning jumped over the horizon and a tingle raced to the tip of my tail.
This series offers a nifty duel POV. Deglan's a shape-shifting dragon, afraid that he's the fulfillment of a prophecy that will endanger his whole family. Meia's an orphan worried that her current foster parents will reject her. How long can it be before these two become fast friends? (But don't expect a plain vanilla "girl and her dragon" story! Plot twists and surprises abound.)
Winningly, Jacobs incorporates illustrations of the characters contributed by young readers. In this and other aspects, we feel the presence of a teacherly Mom in this book. For despite the interesting premise and the fast pace, the narrators sound the way a book-loving fifth-grader might write, not speak. To Poe's ear, both MCs seem a bit remote, a bit formal, and the humor and figures of speech a bit shopworn. Nevertheless,
If a clever hook and action-filled plot matters most, then this series should please.