Dragonspell
Donita Paul

Morality: B+
Writing: C-

Kale has been a slave all her life in the remote town of River Away on the island of Amara. Then she discovers a dragon egg, and she is sent to the large city of Vendela to join the service of Paladin. But things don’t turn out exactly as she’d planned, and she finds herself on a quest to steal a dragon egg from the evil wizard Risto before he carries out his typically evil plans.

This fairly normal fantasy plot is carried off with average writing quality — sentences are strung together well but descriptions are rather vague, and the worldbuilding in general lacks much substance. The history of the country, the relations between its races, and even the landscapes are mostly left a blank. The most annoying worldbuilding flaw is probably the inconsistency in Kale’s reactions to magical phenomena. The author really ought to decide initially exactly what is considered normal and what is abnormal in the day-to-day world which her protagonist inhabits. Kale doesn’t seem to consider it unbelievable when she finds a dragon egg (or actually, eight of them all told), but she’s shocked later on in the book when she sees fire-breathing dragons — surely they’re only the stuff of legend! After she’s been meeting people from many different races (with various reactions of surprise or lack thereof) for hundreds of pages, she’s still horrified to find out that evil Schoergs actually exist 25 pages from the end of the book. This inconsistency frustrated me quite a lot; it seriously detracts from the realism of the world which Kale and Co. inhabit. (Speaking of Kale and Co., I also didn’t like the way the author falls into the all-too-typical trap of instant company bonding: Kale and her co-questers meet and are instantly the best of friends, ready to sacrifice their lives for one another and their cause. It didn’t help that most of the companions were colorless and characterless representatives of various fantastic species.)

The book is most definitely written by a Christian author, and includes many allegorical elements. Having become a servant, Kale realizes that she must make choices, and that those choices matter. She must also learn to trust Wulder and Paladin (the God and Christ parallels, it seems, although their relationship is never explained), even when they assign to her tasks which, to her mind, don’t make sense. Paladin is, all in all, a fairly pleasing representation of Jesus, in my opinion. The points behind the plot are good ones.

The main thing that bothered me in the Christian-life-allegory aspect of the book (which was not in general overplayed) was the portrayal of evil. The evil characters and creatures in the book are basically powerless. The good guys always win out — usually without too much difficulty or loss — and the evil wizard Risto has no power to harm his opponents unless, basically, they allow him. Kale must only say “I stand under Wulder’s authority” to completely disarm Risto and render herself untouchable. I realize that the author is trying to communicate by this that God is more powerful than any evil, and that His people can trust Him completely — an admirable and true statement. However, this doesn’t always work out to ‘invincible Christians’ in the real world. People get hurt and die while following Christ, and simply speaking the words “God protect me” doesn’t always keep you from immediate physical (or even spiritual) harm. This simplistic view of the fight between good and evil is certainly a flaw in writing quality (besides the fact that it’s not true to reality, true conflict is basically non-existent, considerably weakening the plot), and perhaps somewhat a moral quality flaw as well.

By the way, I certainly hope that this book is the first of a series, because otherwise there are quite a few confusing plot holes and questions left unanswered. I can only assume there’s more to come.

(One last note: what do you think of when you see a fastidious, fancy-dressing male character who loves to sew, cook, and play relaxing music, and has a fit when his pants get ripped? Who wants to be officially in Paladin’s service, but isn’t allowed by the Powers That Be in his organization because he doesn’t seem tough enough? Do I just have a dirty mind? Whether it’s a moral ‘issue’ or not, the characterization of an entire race of beings based on these qualities is certainly a writing-quality problem. The guy drove me nuts. I’d hate to see what the women of his species are like.)

Posted by Sasha | October 5, 2004

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