From the moment I encountered “Smaug” in J.R.R.Tolkien’s, “The Hobbit” I have been hooked on all things dragon. It didn’t hurt that I grew up in the early days of C. S. Lewis, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”; Ursula K. Le Guin “Earthsea”; Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragon Riders of Pern”; Terry Brooks “Magic Kingdom”, Raymond Fiest “Riftwars”; Piers Anthony’s “Xanth”; or lately, Christopher Paolini’s ” Alagasia”. As a result, my addiction to dragons, and dragon lore, has been a constant source of delight.
But it was during in my twenty year hiatus from friction, that Barbara Hambly’s “Winterland” series sprang up; which meant that it wasn’t until just recently that it found a place on the shelf alongside all those other books and authors I am currently in the process of re-discovering.
Dragansbane: 1986; Del Ray
The story starts out a little slow, but you quickly come to appreciate how Hambly uses that to lay down a strong foundation for her characters, Jenny Waynest and Lord John Aversin. In Jenny, the author weaves the DNA of a woman struggling with her identity, her powers as a witch – wanna be mage, and her place in the world as wife, mother, and dragon friend. In John, Hambly takes the foolish things of this world, and creates a character that is both wise, noble, and unshakably loyal. Out of the dust and blood and mire and deceit within the Realm of Belmaire, emerges two unlikely hero’s.
Hambly doesn’t waste a lot of words on scenery or physical surroundings; only in so much as they help to exploit the back story or further develop her action and suspense scenes. Instead she pours her energy into bringing the reader into the minds and hearts of the characters; melding our senses with theirs; empowering us to voyeuristically experience the turmoil of humanity versus magic, integrity versus deceit, disappointment versus triumph, love versus hate.
I love that her ending, though resolved, still manages to leave the reader longing for something more; as if we’ve caught a glimpse of fairy dust, which when caught, slips through our minds like whispers on the wind.
On my readers scale of 1-5, I gave “Dragonsbane” 4 stars.