The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas by Elizabeth Scarborough
The kitschyness of the name and cover of this novel made me think that I had stumbled across “cosy fantasy.”
I just googled “cozy fantasy” and the first book on the Goodreads list of best “cozy fantasy” is Harry Potter, which is not what I was thinking of when I thought of “cozy fantasy.” I was thinking like cozy mysteries, where it’s set in a quaint, charming little world and for the most part things are fairly delightful or at least engagingly eccentric except there’s this one thing—in the case of The Drastic Dragon of Draco Texas, the dragon—that needs to be sorted out.
Instead, this book reads like the prim protagonist—who goes by the nom de plume Valentine Lovelace—is in civil court suing some unknown someone for an outrageous amount of money for ‘emotional damages’ and is in the process of retelling the ways in which she’s been wronged.
She’s the sort of narrator who might go “Oh, where was I? Right, so there I was, kidnapped, on horseback, and tied to the back of an unconscious Indian—I couldn’t steer let alone shift my weight or do anything to ease the repetition of the horse’s stride—hence these blisters which have been simply unmerciful!”
If you were curious, the Indian was unconscious on account of too much whiskey that they had stolen from a mule-train.
I know that a book about the old wild west pretty much has to have Native Americans in it, but I admit I didn’t love the glib and caricaturist depictions of them. Even the mule-driver of Valentine’s cart—who is sleeping under the cart when the Indians attack and thus not yet seen—is better characterized and described.
So the protagonist is kidnapped and carried off by Native Americans. They do, at one point, see a dragon. It’s brief and it’s dark and it’s quickly overshadowed by the kidnapping itself and followed up by the sale of Valentine to a comanchero.
(If, like me, your knowledge of the old west is extremely limited, a comanchero was a trader who primarily traded with Native Americans, and especially the Comanches—hence the name. Most notoriously, comancheros would buy and sell slaves, including folks the Native Americans captured during their raids.)
Up until this point exciting things did happen, but Valentine Lovelace’s detached retelling of the story toned down any sort of thrill.
Then she falls in with the comanchero. We are introduced to countless people, we see the compound, we get flash-backs and info-dumps, we even learn about people who are no longer at the comanchero compound.
And these bits seem to take up far more of the story than the dragon, which is all I want to learn more about. Small asides about Valentine dreaming as if she were a dragon and a helper on the compound seeming to understand Valentine’s connecting to said dragon were tangents at best.
It would take an outstanding narrator and a world I’m deeply involved in to make emphasizing on the mundane rather than the fantastical not dangerous, and even then I suspect it’d be a struggle. In The Drastic Dragon of Draco Texas, it’s a death knell. I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to keep going.
I’d be lying if I weren’t a wee bit curious about what happens later on in the book, but I, unfortunately, have no reason to expect the writing to improve. I have heard really good things about Elizabeth Scarborough's other work. I'm going to assume this is an outlier and find my way back to her eventually.
Cover art by Rowena Morrill: