Dragon's Pawn by Carol L Dennis
According to the back copy, Dragon's Pawn is the story of a computer programmer who is thrust into a fantastical world where he must help right a great wrong. Our hero's name?
That's right, our illustrious hero is named, essentially, Noble King. Hm, I wonder where his destiny lays? Despite a sudden desire to crush Dragon's Pawn in search of whether my linguistic revelation was, in fact, a prediction, I'll never know.
Dragon's Pawn starts out at a blistering speed. There's a page-and-a-half of prologue where sages discuss an ultimate evil and task a leprechaun with travelling to Earth to find a suitable savior/hero. Then, in chapter one, our Noble King gets a solitary paragraph to himself before the leprechaun appears and wreaks havoc with his life.
The rapidity with which the narration thrusts these two together, and the aplomb with which Noble King reacts to the leprechaun's sudden appearance had me re-reading paragraphs trying to figure out if they already knew each other.
On top of this, the writing skewed towards the obtuse. At one point, Noble King 'blinks his eyes,' as if we are too stupid to understand what 'blinking' on its own means.
Still, the story had a nostalgic sort of kitsch that was appealing, and despite a normally stilted sort of writing, occasionally a beautiful line stuck out to me.
[The shadows] across the trail grew longer, like the reaching fingers of the night they presaged.
That's beautiful and evocative, no?
Fully realizing that Dragon's Pawn would never become a favorite book, I still settled in to finish it. It seemed like there was enough to make it a fun read and, well, I was curious about Noble King's destiny. And if his computer programming knowledge came into play in his quest.
And then he stumbled across a little house in the woods, and I stopped reading.
Nothing egregious happened, and yet it painted a very clear picture that I would find the book more frustrating than enjoyable. The reasons?
Before being whisked away to this strange world, Noble King had a normal life and, with it, a cat named Minou. (Which, btw, is French for 'kitty.') Even though we spend precious little time in Noble King's world before it gets turned upside-down, it's clear his cat matters to him.
So when he enters this woman's cottage, and she sits down and a cat jumps up on her lap, I expected him to realize with a horrified start that no one was taking care of Minou.
And, while he's sitting down to a meal in this cottage, the woman "retreated to the corner of the room and began to spin."
I stared at that sentence for too long, debating what sort of dance-magic this old lady possessed. Considering all the fantasy up to this point was traditional mythology--spriggans, dragons, and djinns--I was baffled by this sudden addition of something so unique.
Until, a little later, it's revealed that she's using a spinning wheel.
Considering earlier the writing explicitly clarified that Noble King was blinking his eyes (as opposed to what, his nose?), this confusing omission seemed especially egregious.
And with that, I closed the book. Except I made the mistake of re-reading the back copy one last time, and it reminded me that a vegetarian character would join ol' Noble King on his quest. As there are precious few vegetarians in books, let alone old-school fantasy novels, I decided to keep reading.
Noble King spends the night in the loft of the old woman's cottage. In the morning he goes to leave, but is compelled by his magical dragon bracelet to clean up after himself by folding the blankets and such.
He stares at his bracelet in confusion. Up until this point, he had felt as if his bracelet were masculine. Yet here it was telling him to clean up after himself and not act like a knob towards the old woman!
"No man would have such ridiculous ideas," I imagine him grumbling to himself as he folds a blanket. "It's a woman or a queer, that's for sure."
Sexist bullshit notwithstanding, to a certain extent, Pawn of the Dragon felt like a children's book: the rapid pace, the happenstance of events, a main character who just rolls with the punches with no inner thoughts about what's happening to him. On the other hand, our Noble King finds a fennec fox, a unicorn, and a horse attractive.
In hindsight, the second he found the fennec fox attractive was the moment I should have closed the book.
Sadly, not all books about computer programmers sucked into alternate dimensions and tasked with saving the universe can be as good as the Windrose Chronicles.
Cover art by Janny Wurts: