Bones of the Dragon (audiobook)
I’ve not read Weis and Hickman before, but my brother-in-law has thoroughly enjoyed some of their previous series. With that in mind I looked forward to Bones of the Dragon, the first in the Dragonships series following the fates of Skylan Ivorson and his clans of Vindrasi. Their lifestyle has been imperiled with bad crops, rough seas and their fighting dragons will not be summoned. A hated enemy attacks with the news that their gods have been killed and they must bow to new gods. Skylan rises as the Chief of Chiefs to fight back and win the 5 scattered relics that will allow his gods to reclaim the planet.
Good worldbuilding: competing gods, fully realized religion and societies. The actions of the gods effect the success of the tribes. Culture clearly borrowed from seafaring norsemen with real dragons! Somehow they only ever eat stew, though.
Narrator: They were going to have an actual dragon read the book but they couldn’t find one with a low enough voice, so they hired Stefan Rudnicki to do it.
Genre: gods, ogres, dragons, giants, ghosts, fairies, Druids, feral children, this book has many of the unusual races and characters we’ve come to expect in a ripping fantasy yarn. The bits about the dragons animating the ships and manifesting to fight are great ideas. When speaking of the origins of the fae and the gods that came to this planet, it takes on a science fictional feel. The giants are flesh spinners capable of planetary creation. The dragons and gods are super powered planetary defenders or attackers. This book is not a romance. There is not one healthy romantic relationship in the whole story.
Characters: Flat. Once introduced, buttonhole them and they won’t surprise. Skylan brash youth. Garn, gutless kid wise beyond years. Aylaen, tomboy who’d rather fight than curtsey. And on and on. Skylan begins the story very pious toward Torval, but easily falls to lying, though Torval hates deceit. The women are more believably portrayed than in most stories of this type. Worse than lack of depth, though is lack of likability. I feel bad for Skylan’s wife, and Garn seems like he might do something cool (spoiler: he won’t) but with Skylan I hovered between annoyance and aggravation the whole time. People plot against him and I can’t help but agree a little
Plot: Frustrating. Fools make unwise decisions and reap punishments over and over. I think the story goes for pulling me in with sympathetically fallible heroes in trouble who need to atone to save their way of life. For me their fallibility was so overdone that I thought it might not be bad for their lifestyle to be destroyed.
The main quest of the series entails recovering five powerful scattered relics. The bones of the Vektia Dragons. Once introduced the idea is quickly abandoned by the characters in favor of making poor choices to further their political ambitions and trying to cover them. That’s fine if it’s not supposed to be a plot-coupon book or series, but by introducing it the story creates an expectation in the reader that is put off, then delayed, then thwarted. It’s an unusual tactic, but not a rewarding one.
The gods also are less concerned with recovering the bones to save themselves than with alternately ignoring the humans, or catching them up in their lies to prove points. They ask the humans to save them and then hinder their every effort. The sea goddess’s tantrums sink Vindrasi boats in storms. Attacked by foreign gods, Torval himself squanders his giants fighting the Vindrasi and their dragon rather than use them in his own fight. Beset from without by their gods, attacked by enemies, and turning on each other, these Vikings are doomed and it wasn’t much fun to watch them fail again and again.
Skylan loses every fight in the book except for the one that’s rigged. The dedicated high priestess violates her appointed duties. Characters you are supposed to respect and pull for even fall off a gangplank to wallow in the water in front of all their enemies…TWICE!
The plot does have a few surprising twists that catch you off guard. Sadly both of them just made me smile, shake my head and say, “Wow. You fool. Now watch what you get.”
And get it they do. The story ends on a devastating note that I am sure is meant to propel me into the rest of the series wondering how the characters will overcome it. Instead of a cliffhanger, it struck me as a fitting end to the series.
If the series is about the Vindrasi rising up to reclaim the five scattered bones it might be best enjoyed skipping this first book altogether.