The Summer Dragon: A paragon of character development with plot troubles

The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood fantasy book reviewsThe Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

It’s been ages since I’ve encountered a worthwhile dragon-rider-type novel, and illustrator Todd Lockwood’s debut The Summer Dragon certainly didn’t disappoint! This first instalment in Lockwood’s THE EVERTIDE series tells the story of Maia, scion of a family of dragon-breeders who have tended the aeries of Riat for generations. In The Summer Dragon, the dragon riders are the sociopolitical elite, and Maia hopes to someday day bond with one of the dragons of Riat. When their nation Korruzon’s war against the Harodhi takes a turn for the worse, however, the government requisitions the entire brood from Riat, leaving Maia dragon-less. Compounding the problem is Maia and her brother’s sighting of the mythical Summer Dragon near their hometown, which drags Maia headfirst into the war with the Harodhi, a secret religious conflict that has been debated for millennia, and the secrets of the dragons themselves. With The Summer Dragon, Todd Lockwood weaves an action-filled tale of courage, dragons, and the meaning of family.

Perhaps the greatest strength of The Summer Dragon is the way Todd Lockwood makes his characters breathe. Of all the characters in the work, there are few that don’t seem real, tangible. All have clearly understandable and coherent motivations and personalities; for example, Maia’s faithfulness to her family contrasts with her rebellious nature and desire for freedom, while her love of dragons clashes with the cruelty that’s inherent in the world around her. There are very clear internal struggles that help develop the characters, and by the end of The Summer Dragon, it’s clear that Maia and Lockwood’s other characters have all changed significantly from their previous selves. In many ways, The Summer Dragon is a very character-driven work. Every plot twist occurs because of a specific aspect of a character’s personality, and that’s something I find very exciting.

Unfortunately, the plot of The Summer Dragon does disappoint a bit. The Summer Dragon is a very complex narrative that Lockwood pulls together skillfully, but there are a few weak points. While there’s no shortage of action scenes, the pacing feels off. At least to me, it seemed that there was no single, overarching plot line that truly takes dominance and connects all the dots together; rather, there are multiple subplots that compete for the spotlight. And maybe this is a function of the character-driven plot, maybe not. In any case, one of the subplots in The Summer Dragon peaks much too early (think in the first 40% of the work), which makes some of the pages in the middle of the novel feel too slow in comparison since there’s a whole new set of problems to be solved in the next few hundred pages. As a result of the early climax, The Summer Dragon feels like it’s trying to tell two different, highly segmented stories at once. I’m not really sure why Lockwood chose to weave the narrative in this way — except maybe to set up later events or a sequel — but the result does end up being somewhat imperfect. This plot structure definitely detracts somewhat from the excitement later in the work.

Overall, I think Todd Lockwood’s The Summer Dragon is definitely worth checking out. I do have a few other minor quibbles, but the key word here is “minor.” The prose is sometimes too blunt, which takes away from the imagery — however, this is a comparatively unnoticeable issue. So not only is The Summer Dragon an impressive debut, it’s an awesome contribution to high fantasy and in particular the dragon-riding genre, which I don’t think has been particularly prominent in recent years.

Published May 3, 2016. The debut novel from the acclaimed illustrator–a high fantasy adventure featuring dragons and deadly politics. Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she anticipates a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon–one of the rare and mythical High Dragons–makes an appearance in her quiet valley. Political factions vie for control of the implied message, threatening her aspirations, her aerie, her entire way of life. The bond between dragons and their riders is deep and life-long, and Maia’s desire for a dragon of her own to train, ride, fly, and love drives her to take a risk that puts her life at stake. She is swept into an adventure that pits her against the deathless Horrors, thralls of the enemy, and a faceless creature drawn from her fear. In her fight to preserve everything she knows and loves, she exposes a conspiracy, unearths an ancient civilization, and challenges her understanding of her world–and of herself.

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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is political/digital strategist based in Harlem. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (a href="http://www.fantasyliterature.com/fantasy-author/funkecornelia">Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. You can find him at: kevinlwei.com

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2 comments

  1. It sounds like a fascinating world and an interesting political struggle as well. Thanks for this, Kevin.I’m going to look for this one.

  2. It makes sense that the characters are well fleshed-out, since a lot of artists have to come up with compelling backstories and histories in order to create convincing art. I like Lockwood’s art, so I’ll keep this one in mind. Thanks, Kevin!

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