Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
As fantasy anthologies go, this is a fantastic collection that nails the theme! If you love dragons and dragon stories, this is the anthology for you. If you ever dreamed of finding and/or owning your own pet dragon, this is the anthology for you. If you're a cryptozoology geek or a sucker for mythical creatures, this is the anthology for you.
There's a lot to love here for every fantasy and even sci-fi fan.
There are several stories in here that really shine above the rest in our opinion. Two of them—“Tiny Hearts” by Sophia DeSensi and “Wei Ling and the Water Dragon” by Jeff Burns—are phenomenally, incredibly adorable and fun to read. This is because both writers really understand character chemistry as well as the magic and shear majesty of dragons. The human-dragon pairs in these two stories are just an absolute joy to read. There's a tremendous amount of chemistry between these characters. The dynamics are very amusing.
DeSensi's story is essentially an expansion of the Mulan-Mushu relationship in which a young, adventurous female named Mabel becomes saddled with a tiny yet charismatic dragon named Divi. The dragon is literally described as being about the size of a fruit or a worm, but his personality is enormous. There's also a lot of subtext about how the dragon feels about Mabel and himself. We can tell that despite his loud mouth and boisterous attitude that he is quite lonely and insecure. We can gather that he views Mabel as a dear and only friend he doesn't want to be separated from.
Jeff Burns's story is arguably the most amusing in the anthology. It takes a precocious girl name Ling Wei and pairs her up with a big, old oaf of a dragon named Hailong. Both are naive about what the other wants and believes—the girl doesn't understand dragons and the dragon doesn't understand humans. The fact that they learn about these things together is beautiful. The chemistry between these two is off the charts. They even take turns being afraid and having to calm the other. Ling Wei is initially afraid of being eaten by Hailong, and Hailong is afraid of being hunted or extorted by humans. The amount of personality each character is able to emit in the confines of a short story is mind-boggling. Hailong has a tendency toward false humility which he uses to humorous effect. Ling Wei is also very self-conscious about the way she looks and about the way she's perceived.
Another good all-around story (arguably the most well-rounded) is “A Wild Beast of the West” by Marx & Julie Pyle. This story takes the human-dragon dynamic and meshes it well with an epic struggle against Griffins—the mortal enemies of the dragons. This leads to a unique conflict that's both fun and interesting to read. This is one of the more action-packed and action-driven stories in the anthology, however it isn't absent of solid characters and dialogue as well. In fact, there's a lot of witty dialogue and clever exchanges in this story. Also, the dragon's name happens to be Baby (aaawwwwwwww)!
There are a few other interesting tales in here including one in which the dragon protagonist is apparently a prize-fighter, one in which the protagonists attend a dragon-themed heavy metal concert, and one in which the dragon's name is Connery (like Sean Connery from “Dragonheart”). There's a story in which there are humongous worms that are apparently up to a mile long and you can ride them. YIKES! There's even a direct homage to the dinosaur-centered sci-fi series Terra Nova with a world that is straight up called “Nova Terra.” Clearly, these are writers who LOVE dragons, fantasy, and/or sci-fi. Their hearts are in it.
Here's the thing: there are a lot of high points in this anthology as we've mentioned, but there are a lot of forgettable things in it as well. It's difficult to latch onto some of these characters emotionally or care about their plight when we know they'll be gone within a dozen pages. And, to be frank, many of these characters are interchangeable if not entirely forgettable. Who even remembers who Nathan, Lucy, Ned, Heather, Olivia, Xin, and Drew are after reading all this? They're easily replaceable and interchangeable. You know who's not forgettable? The Otter Dog that the one Nathan dude encounters. Now, he's a memorable character! One of the best in the anthology.
Another thing that's bothersome throughout this anthology is the absence of pure, bad@#$ dragons. There's a ton of inspiration drawn from the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise. The dragons are almost always kind, cool, obedient, and subservient to humans. What we missed is seeing dragons who can and will wreck stuff. Yes, we know that these are supposed to be unusual dragon tales, but it just felt like there was an edginess or something that was missing with practically all the dragons in this dragon-themed anthology. There were also a few stories in here that really got overshadowed by the others. There was at least one that was heavily reliant on exposition in the form of dialogue that ended up coming across as contrived. There were also times when it felt like nothing was really accomplished by the end of the story since many of these are left open-ended as the start of a new adventure. In other words, it was all set-up toward the "real story." Keep in mind that some of these are prologues to full-length works.
The writing in most of this anthology is truly top-notch. It includes some of the best-woven sentences we've read in a while. It's truly a magical and fun read!
Check it out on Amazon!
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