Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (1985)

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (1985)Dragonsbane (Winterlands #1) by Barbara Hambly
Published: Open Road Media (1985), eBook, 352pg
Source: Scribd
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy

When the Black Dragon seized the Deep of Ylferdun, young Gareth braved the far Winterlands to find John Aversin, Dragonsbane -- the only living man ever to slay a dragon. In return for the promise of the King to send help to the Winterlands, Aversin agreed to attempt the nearly impossible feat again.

With them, to guard them on the haunted trip south, went Jenny Waynest, a half-taught sorceress and mother of Aversin's sons.

But at the decadent Court, nothing was as expected. Rebellion threatened the land. Zyerne, a sorceress of seemingly unlimited power, held the King under an evil spell, and he refused to see them. Meantime, the dragon fed well on the knights who had challenged him.

In the end, Aversin, Jenny, and Gareth had to steal away at night to challenge Morkeleb, largest and wisest of dragons.

But that was only the beginning of the perils they must face.

This was the #WizardBBC pick back in March! I’ve read other Barbara Hambly books, but only her urban fantasy historical mysteries with vampires; this one’s about a pseudo-medieval community plagued by dragons and an evil sorceress, and the three people who defeat them.

First up is a witch named Jenny! She’s wants to be powerful but isn’t sure she wants to actually dedicate her entire life ONLY to study– something you’re supposed to do if you ever want to be any good at magic, apparently. Jenny isn’t just a witch, though: she’s a mother and a lover and isn’t sure if she wants to abandon those parts of herself for magic.

This is great stuff, especially since I think it might be a metaphor for women having to balance work/home life in our world, and how whatever one chooses it’ll probably be the “wrong” choice. Take Jenny. If she stays with her family she’ll have human connection, affection, love, etc., but her magic won’t ever be as strong as it could have been otherwise and she’ll be unfulfilled. And if she goes off and becomes a magical hermit, she’ll be all alone. Powerful, but without anybody to love her.

(She works it out by the end, no worries.)

The second hero is the Dragonsbane himself and Jenny’s lover, John.1 He’s pragmatic and supportive of Jenny and is generally a good man. His character is defined mostly by what he ISN’T, I think. He isn’t an action hero, a super romantic lead, or a villain pretending to be good. He doesn’t bluster or bash heads together or even try to tell Jenny what to do. He’s just a person with a sense of responsibility and morals.

I really like it when heroes are heroic without them having to tell you. John’s kind of an idealistic version of a chivalrous knight, only without the courtly love part. He slays dragons, but he doesn’t expect anybody to sing songs about it.

The third hero is Gareth, a prince who spent too much time reading books and not enough time actually talking to people. He’s a jerk in the beginning because he can’t understand that people aren’t characters IRL– John especially disappoints him because of how he isn’t a typical epic fantasy hero with huge muscles and a superiority complex. Gareth also has issues with (magically) powerful women romantically involved with nobility, for reasons which become heartbreakingly clear later on in the book. He spends a lot of time insulting Jenny and John (both inadvertently and not) at first, but he gets better!

The (good guy) characters are VERY well-crafted. Even when they annoyed me, they interested me and I wanted to keep reading about them, I adored all of them, though they aren’t without their irritating aspects. Gareth, for example, took a very long time to win me over, but his character development was so well done that it ended up making me heavily invested in his story and rooting for a happy ending.

It’s such a good book! I love character-driven fantasy stories. Also, dragons! The dragon is another well-developed character, though he’s more mysterious than the other just because he isn’t human. I very much enjoyed the complicated relationship he has with Jenny; he’s not JUST a murderous brute, and Jenny is not the typical witch.

Their complexity is exactly why I can’t help but the evil sorceress character, even though she’s a baddun. I couldn’t help but think that there were secret layers to her personality beyond “wants to do evil things and be in control of everyone because of evil.” The narrative is tightly focused on Jenny and her friends, though, so there’s no room for rumination about a villain’s motivations.

Read: March 26, 2015

  1. although Jenny is also a Dragonsbane, actually. They killed a dragon together using teamwork!

2 thoughts on “Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (1985)”

  1. Witch. Named. Jenny. Who is a protagonist. Hooray!!!

    Actually, I have known about this for a while, and still haven’t read Dragonsbane, and I don’t know what’s taking me so long! I just never feel like I’m entirely in the mood for high fantasy.

    1. It’s high fantasy but, like, only because it’s pseudo medievalish and also there are dragons and wizards? It actually reads more like a meta thing about high fantasy/heroes/etc. than anything else, tbh.

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