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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dragonspell (DragonKeeper Chronicles #1) by Donita K. Paul

One dragon egg holds the key to the future.

Once a slave, Kale is given the unexpected opportunity to become a servant to Paladin. Yet this young girl has much to learn about the difference between slavery and service.

A desperate search begins…

A small band of Paladin’s servants rescue Kale from danger but turn her from her destination: The Hall, where she was to be trained. Feeling afraid and unprepared, Kale embarks on a perilous quest to find the meech dragon egg stolen by the foul Wizard Risto. First, she and her comrades must find Wizard Fenworth. But their journey is threatened when a key member of the party is captured, leaving the remaining companions to find Fenworth, attempt an impossible rescue, and recover the egg whose true value they have not begun to suspect…

Weaving together memorable characters, daring adventure, and a core of eternal truth,
Dragonspell is a finely crafted and welcome addition to the corpus of fantasy fiction.

Released: June 22nd 2004         Pages: 339
Publisher: WaterBrook Press   Source: borrowed from my brother
First Look: ****I checked out a book from this series from the library years ago, not realizing it wasn't the first book (pet peeve: a book series that isn't clearly labeled with numbers).  I went ahead and put the first book on my to-read list, because, well, dragons.

Setting: *****  The term-dropping (where an author introduces many new in-world concepts at once) was exhausting for the first fifty pages or so.  After that I didn't care because I had completely given up on knowing exactly what any of that stuff meant.  For example, we're told early in the story that Kale, the main character, is an "o'rant".  Well, that's nice, but what does it mean?  We're never told.  Other creatures like "doneels" and "emerlindians" are introduced, but, again, we're not told exactly what they are.  Around page 250, I finally realized that this book has a glossary.  It's not helpful, though--all it says about most of the races is their average height, which doesn't help. 

Apart from this, the other aspects of the setting didn't do anything for me.  I was given a very narrow picture of the world Kale lives in.  I don't know what kind of society it is, what kind of culture, or even what kind of government they have. 

 Characters: *****  Kale was flat.  I couldn't like her because I still have no idea what sort of personality she has.  Other than having a "follower" personality, that is.  She didn't make decisions for herself.  Everything that she was told she swallowed without a single question.  Not to mention the fact that she gained random powers out of nowhere.  I'll buy the mindspeaking thing, sure.  But now she's suddenly able to use her mind to temporarily blind an enemy, with almost no training?

I never understood her backstory, either.  She used to be a slave, and the author regards this like it was a terrible existence.  And yet, every time Kale recalls being a slave, it's never a negative thing.  It's always "I never had to think about X when I was a slave", or "things were easier and simpler when I was a slave".  And why did she stop being a slave?  The impression I got was that she was called to be part of a quest.  Why, though?  I was never given an explanation.

I wasn't attached to anyone else, either.  Either I couldn't take them seriously, or I just plain didn't care.  The dragon, Gymn, didn't really do anything but faint.  And then there's the fact that Kale named her dragon Gymn.  So basically, her dragon is either named Jim or Gym.  That's worse than that time I had to read about an evil dragon named Beth.   

And then, of course, we have the Christian fiction character trap, which this book falls into.  Every character is so inherently good and righteous all the time.  They never mess up, ever.  Except the ones that are the Designated Bad Guys, of course.  Then they're awful and terrible and there's nothing good about them and it's okay to kill them all.  I'll say it again: Christian fiction isn't supposed to be about ideal Christians who are perfect in every sense of the word.  Like any good fiction, it's only worthwhile when the characters are realistic.  When they have flaws, and mess up.  Just because it's a Christian novel doesn't mean your characters can't make mistakes.

Plot: ***** Who are we fighting, again?  And why?  The characters were on a quest against evil.  We never know why they're fighting these people, though, or what makes them evil in the first place.  We don't see villages razed to the ground or anything of the sort.  The only thing that makes the villains evil is that the author tells us so.

The plot didn't have much focus.  "Focus" is the term I use for having a specific plot goal that is obvious, and the characters are working towards it constantly throughout the book.  Plots should always have focus; I should be able to easily identify what the conflict is.  This book made it too easy to lose sight of its focus.

 Uniqueness: ***** 
It has some unique aspects, but it also uses an abundance of fantasy stereotypes--the wizened old wizard, the bumbling comic-relief dwarf(-ish thing), etc. 

Writing: ***** 
The thing that bothered me above all else was the excessive internalization.  It's good to let your readers be privy to your character's thoughts once and awhile, but I was reading italicized thoughts two to three, or more, times per page for much of the novel.  It annoyed me.  Most of it was unnecessary, anyway.

Other than that, the writing felt disconnected from the story.  I got no sense of emotion from the narration, despite the amount of Kale's thoughts that I read about.  There was also at least one typo. 

 Likes: Well, at least it's finally off my to-read shelf.

Not-so-great: This isn't so much a problem with the book as a new quirk about me I've just discovered.  At one point, Kale meets Paladin, who is essentially this book's version of Christ.  Kale sits down and talks to him, and describes him as "handsome".  I've never thought about whether or not Jesus would be handsome, but now that I do, I don't feel like he would be.  I feel like he'd be pleasant-looking, but not handsome.  I keep thinking about what would happen if I met Jesus and I thought he was handsome.  How awkward would that be?   (If he looked like, say, Tom Hiddleston, how distracting would that be?)  I'm weirded out by this whole idea, and I'm really not sure why.

Overall: I didn't like this book.  At all.  It was another Christian novel in which the characters were righteous all the time and never made a single mistake.  And they were flat and uninteresting characters on top of all that.  The writing contained way too much internalization.  The worldbuilding was poor, and the plot was unfocused.  One star.  I will be steering far clear of the rest of the series.

Similar Books: It's Christian fantasy involving dragons like the Dragons In Our Midst/Oracles of Fire/Children of the Bard series and the Dragons of Starlight series..  (They're all one.  Kind of.  I explain it more in this post.)  It's a fairly tame high fantasy with Christian elements like The Door WithinIt also has a bit of a Dragonlance vibe.

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1 comment:

  1. The first book is slow. When I reread this series, sometimes I skip it. You really should try the other books! :)


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