Book review: Dragonborn

Dragonborn, by Toby Forward. Middle-grade fantasy.

When Flaxfield the great wizard dies, his apprentice Sam is left without a master. Sam has great power-but he doesn’t know it yet. All he knows is that he needs a new master if he wants to finish his education in magic.

With his dragon Starback at his side, Sam sets out alone on his quest. But there are those who want Sam’s power for themselves, dangerous forces who are waiting for his first mistake so they can attack. When Sam is tricked into making a mortal error, only Starback can save him, thanks to a bond between them that is deeper than either of them know.

With a strong sense of adventure and a lyrical writing style, Toby Forward has created a page-turning, accessible fantasy with the literary quality of a classic.

I’m still trying to decide what I thought of this book. It’s written in that sparse, minimalist style that’s so popular right now, and there’s no backstory given, EVER. It’s like Valve storytelling in Half-life–you’re just left to figure stuff out on your own.

The story itself is like if Lyra from The Dark Materials trilogy and Conn of the Magic Thief trilogy somehow got mixed into a crossover and had an adventure together. Complete with Lyra’s magic church-school thingy. Those aspects of it were excellent.

The first half of the story is excellent. Lots of deep thoughts about magic and how the world is put together.

Then the second half of the book dissolves into random. I don’t know if the editor read that far or something. By the last few chapters, it’s nothing but disassociated scenes with the barest amount of coherent narrative linking them. The confrontation with the villain was almost a non-event that takes up a whopping two pages.

A bunch of characters who are presented as possibly villains in the beginning turn out to be good guys by the end, which is always a nice surprise. The villain is evil and disgusting, and I felt sorry for all of her thralls. But again, almost no backstory is given. I imagine a lot more is explained in the next books.

The splintered second half of the book is what makes me so uncertain about it. I loved the first half. It had good writing and ideas. But then … that second half. I’m still barely sure what happened. It’s not explained and barely described, and it’s like watching the obligatory “clip-show” episode of an anime.

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