Here Be Dragons

From ancient Babylon to modern TV, stories of the mythical beasts have always fascinated us. These favorites explore dragons in a wealth of forms, including intergalactic species, Victorian obsessions, and even endangered, struggling animals.

Game of Thrones has introduced much to Monday-morning conversations: walking human icicles, Jon Snow knowing nothing, and especially Daenerys Targaryen’s fearsome and cool dragons.

I’m not sure if it’s still cool to call something “cool,” but it’s hard not to use that word when something inside of me does enthusiastic fist pumps of childlike wonder when seeing Daenerys’ dragons taking flight or treating an entire navy fleet like it’s an easily ignited Duraflame log. Of course, lovers of fantasy fiction have long known that feeling thanks to dragons being staples of the genre. But a post-Game of Thrones world seems to have swelled interest in the mythical creatures beyond their previous marginalization as the concerns of geeks. And it’s not hard to see why so many have been converted to the thrilling appeal of dragons.

What is the appeal — which can be traced back several millennia to ancient China and Sumeria — in the first place? Certainly part of it is mankind’s Icarus-like thirst for the freedom of flight, which dragons offer. It may also be the immense power that dragons possess which, when wielded by a person, can turn the weakest individual into a formidable force, or turn the tide on the most hopeless of situations. It’s also hard to deny that dragons represent something of the ultimate pet — a fantastical extension of the loving connections we form with dogs or horses.

But in the end it may just come down to good old-fashioned wonder. Here, in addition to Game of Thrones, are six more novels where you can find that wonder and confirm that dragons are cool. 

A Game of Thrones

The novel that started it all. Here began the journey through thousands of pages (and dozens of TV hours) of betrayal, bloodshed, Machiavellian intrigue, and, of course, dragons. What an introduction A Game of Thrones gives its dragons, too: suckling a naked Daenerys who has emerged unscathed from the fire that hatched them. It leaves little doubt that George R. R. Martin knows dragons are cool, and knows how to show them off.

His Majesty's Dragon

What if dragons existed all over the world during the Napoleonic Wars? And what if they were used as an aerial fleet to fight wars in the skies? That’s the “Why did nobody think of this sooner?” appeal of Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon alternate history (developed further in eight subsequent novels). There’s plenty of dragon action here, but it’s also nicely supplemented by Patrick O’Brian-like military detail, a light touch of John Le Carré intrigue, and a pinch of James Bond globetrotting. But know this: You may come for those elements, but you’ll stay for the compelling central relationship between William Laurence, the novel’s human hero, and his dragon, Temeraire. All of it is complemented nicely by narrator Simon Vance’s British accent, which wouldn’t be out of place on Downton Abbey, and wonderfully anchors the fantasy while also reflecting the prim and properness of Laurence’s place in society.

Seraphina

Seraphina offers a fascinating take on dragons: a world where the beasts can shapeshift into human form, but have a very tenuous relationship with mankind. In fact, in the novel a 40-year treaty is suddenly at risk when a prince is decapitated, allegedly, by a dragon. In steps the heroine, the product of a Romeo and Juliet-style love affair between a dragon and human, and who may have the abilities to solve the mystery. Seraphina is more than a mystery, however. Its kingdom allows for Tudor-like intrigue, romance, and drama. The book is an especially welcome reminder of what draws many of us to fantasy in the first place: the chance to see an author’s imagination run loose, fleshing out an entirely different world we can immerse ourselves in.

Dragonflight

Don’t expect a typical dragon novel with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight — the beginning of the Dragonriders of Pern series. The book not only ditches the common medieval or Renaissance-style settings of fantasy, it downplays fantasy altogether, instead nestling it into science fiction. Dragonflight takes place on a colonized planet called Pern where native dragon-like creatures have been genetically modified by humans to be larger and telepathic. Oh, and there’s also time travel, forgotten old danger threatening to re-emerge, and a “Chosen One” storyline. In other words: McCaffrey’s novel is a wonderful genre mish-mash. Incidentally, it’s also one that George R. R. Martin fans especially may enjoy, given the care with which McCaffrey fleshes out the customs and costumes of this alternate society. That society is also nicely fleshed out by Dick Hill’s narration and the range he brings not just to character but narration. His sneering and snooty delivery of the villain’s lines are a particular delight.

Eragon

If you haven’t read the best-selling YA sensation yet, know this: Whether it will appeal depends on how much you love Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Why? Because the novel (the first in a series of four) has been criticized by some for being too derivative of the worlds and stories of George Lucas and J. R. R. Tolkien. But for those who always want more of that, Eragon will be perfect. The story is about a young boy who discovers a dragon egg and thus begins a journey to overthrow a ruler oppressing a land full of magic, elves, and orc-like creatures. But Eragon especially stands out as a great example of a dragon novel mainstay: a person bonding with a newly born dragon, forming an intimate long-lasting friendship with them.

A Natural History of Dragons

If Jane Austen had decided to write a book about Elizabeth Bennet being an aspiring scientist interested in dragons, we might have gotten something like A Natural History of Dragons sooner. The novel begins with one Lady Trent in her later (and famous) years, promising to recall her younger days. From there, she leads the reader into her adventures in an (alternate) Victorian era as she pursued not just a place in the boy’s club of the science community, but the study of dragons. Now, in many ways the book is more about her Ladyship’s life than anything else, but a character-focused novel involving dragons? Who can pass that up? Nor should you pass up the delightful spirit that narrator Kate Reading brings to Lady Trent — whether it’s the impish mischief of a whimsical joke, or the deep passion that comes through when the character speaks of dragons.

A Game of Thrones

The novel that started it all. Here began the journey through thousands of pages (and dozens of TV hours) of betrayal, bloodshed, Machiavellian intrigue, and, of course, dragons. What an introduction A Game of Thrones gives its dragons, too: suckling a naked Daenerys who has emerged unscathed from the fire that hatched them. It leaves little doubt that George R. R. Martin knows dragons are cool, and knows how to show them off.

His Majesty's Dragon

What if dragons existed all over the world during the Napoleonic Wars? And what if they were used as an aerial fleet to fight wars in the skies? That’s the “Why did nobody think of this sooner?” appeal of Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon alternate history (developed further in eight subsequent novels). There’s plenty of dragon action here, but it’s also nicely supplemented by Patrick O’Brian-like military detail, a light touch of John Le Carré intrigue, and a pinch of James Bond globetrotting. But know this: You may come for those elements, but you’ll stay for the compelling central relationship between William Laurence, the novel’s human hero, and his dragon, Temeraire. All of it is complemented nicely by narrator Simon Vance’s British accent, which wouldn’t be out of place on Downton Abbey, and wonderfully anchors the fantasy while also reflecting the prim and properness of Laurence’s place in society.

Seraphina

Seraphina offers a fascinating take on dragons: a world where the beasts can shapeshift into human form, but have a very tenuous relationship with mankind. In fact, in the novel a 40-year treaty is suddenly at risk when a prince is decapitated, allegedly, by a dragon. In steps the heroine, the product of a Romeo and Juliet-style love affair between a dragon and human, and who may have the abilities to solve the mystery. Seraphina is more than a mystery, however. Its kingdom allows for Tudor-like intrigue, romance, and drama. The book is an especially welcome reminder of what draws many of us to fantasy in the first place: the chance to see an author’s imagination run loose, fleshing out an entirely different world we can immerse ourselves in.

Dragonflight

Don’t expect a typical dragon novel with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight — the beginning of the Dragonriders of Pern series. The book not only ditches the common medieval or Renaissance-style settings of fantasy, it downplays fantasy altogether, instead nestling it into science fiction. Dragonflight takes place on a colonized planet called Pern where native dragon-like creatures have been genetically modified by humans to be larger and telepathic. Oh, and there’s also time travel, forgotten old danger threatening to re-emerge, and a “Chosen One” storyline. In other words: McCaffrey’s novel is a wonderful genre mish-mash. Incidentally, it’s also one that George R. R. Martin fans especially may enjoy, given the care with which McCaffrey fleshes out the customs and costumes of this alternate society. That society is also nicely fleshed out by Dick Hill’s narration and the range he brings not just to character but narration. His sneering and snooty delivery of the villain’s lines are a particular delight.

Eragon

If you haven’t read the best-selling YA sensation yet, know this: Whether it will appeal depends on how much you love Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Why? Because the novel (the first in a series of four) has been criticized by some for being too derivative of the worlds and stories of George Lucas and J. R. R. Tolkien. But for those who always want more of that, Eragon will be perfect. The story is about a young boy who discovers a dragon egg and thus begins a journey to overthrow a ruler oppressing a land full of magic, elves, and orc-like creatures. But Eragon especially stands out as a great example of a dragon novel mainstay: a person bonding with a newly born dragon, forming an intimate long-lasting friendship with them.

A Natural History of Dragons

If Jane Austen had decided to write a book about Elizabeth Bennet being an aspiring scientist interested in dragons, we might have gotten something like A Natural History of Dragons sooner. The novel begins with one Lady Trent in her later (and famous) years, promising to recall her younger days. From there, she leads the reader into her adventures in an (alternate) Victorian era as she pursued not just a place in the boy’s club of the science community, but the study of dragons. Now, in many ways the book is more about her Ladyship’s life than anything else, but a character-focused novel involving dragons? Who can pass that up? Nor should you pass up the delightful spirit that narrator Kate Reading brings to Lady Trent — whether it’s the impish mischief of a whimsical joke, or the deep passion that comes through when the character speaks of dragons.

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other dragon books we love

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