I just finished the best pair of fantasy books that I have read since I polished off Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus Trilogy or Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia. They were called Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs, and I am astonished that a fantasy author of this caliber has escaped my notice for so long.
Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles: from the classic list, the two books of the “Hurog duology” score an astonishing 10/10 (well, maybe 9/10; it isn’t fencing so much as swordplay). Add to that strong women characters (often sorely lacking in this Tolkien-inspired world), homosexual/bisexual relationships that are portrayed with the same depth of feeling as heterosexual relationships (although admittedly vilified slightly by the “young boys” predatory stereotype), and a world of realistic battles and fantastic heroics living side by side and you’ve got a winning formula if ever I’ve met one. I strongly recommend both Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood, and will be eagerly seeking out Patricia Briggs’ other novels.
Dragon Bones introduces us to a world of dragons long-dead, magic waning, and a problematic feudal system. After reading the blurb online and on the back cover, the story sounded pretty borderline, but Briggs successfully takes a plot that in other hands might have come across forced and hackneyed and deftly weaves it into a fascinating tale filled with memorably enjoyable characters. For whatever reason, I tend to enjoy children’s and young adult fantasy the most, and Dragon Bones successfully melds the pace and interest of young adult fantasy with some slightly more adult themes for an overall experience that should be appealing across a broad age span.
Dragon Blood is a bit darker than Dragon Bones (featuring, as it does, torture and political corruption), but every bit as good and leads the story in a more mature direction (appropriate, considering the aging of the characters). I found Dragon Bones more fun, while Dragon Blood was more gripping.
A big reason I enjoyed Dragon Bones and Blood is because Briggs successfully melds fantasy standbys in theme, plot, and setting with realistic-feeling world dynamics and characters. The heroics and magic are certainly larger than life, but they take place within the context of a world where violence is brutal and actions have consequences. It’s always a pleasant surprise for me to find an author who can write a complex fantasy world that utilizes fantasy tropes even as it moves beyond them, and Briggs does a good job of this.
Perhaps, though, the highest praise I can offer is this: when I laid down Dragon Blood, grinning like an idiot because I enjoyed it so much, the thought I came away with was “I want to write like this.”