Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bazil Broketail Series

And now for the F of SF & F:

A few years ago I was browsing in the SF & F section of my local McNally Robinson and stumbled across A Dragon at World's End by Christopher Rowley. I bought it on Impulse because I liked the sword pictured on the cover. I mean, A dragon with a sword? Awesome! Otherwise it was the first fantasy novel I'd bought since my dissapointment with the fantasy paperback pulp mill back when I was in high school.

Yikes, I don't think I can count the number of times I've bought a book only to find out it's the third or fourth in a series. Fortunately the books of the Bazil Broketail series are quite readable as standalone novels. Recently I was able to pick up the rest of the books in the series from a combination of used bookstores and AbeBooks.

Although the series is named for him, Bazil the broketail dragon is the companion of the protagonist of the novels, the dragonboy Relkin, although the point of view is not limited to him. The narrative usually follows the boy but often switches to one of the witches or their allies and sometimes to the bad guys. Seldom does it follow a non-human. Further, while the POV is mostly third-person limited, it sometimes switches to omniscient.

I can't really explain why I like this series so much. Certainly these books have flaws. I guess it really just boils down to the fact that they are just plain fun. The world is vividly realized and has every detail fits within the internal logic of that universe.

The dragons in this universe deserve a word or two of description. First of all, most of the dragons in the books cannot fly. These are the so called wyverns of the Argonath. Now if you look up the classical definition of wyverns in our world you'll probably find a description like "a small dragon with two legs and bat-like wings". In Bazil's world, however, wyverns are a branch of the dragon family that originally lived along ocean coasts both in the water and out. They have no wings but many can walk on just two of their four legs. Only the large four ton brasshides go about on all fours. Wyverns can talk and are dexterous enough to manipulate tools such as shovels, axes, and swords.

Long ago the wyverns pledged to fight for the humans of the Argonath. In return they are kept well fed and are served by dragonboys who trim their nails and such. While they prefer fish or meat, they will eat the much more readily available noodles and bread - so long as there is plenty of akh to put on it. The ingredients of akh vary, but the best is made from hot peppers and fish sauce. It is said to be too strong for humans.

There are wild dragons that normally live in the frozen north but sometimes range down and harass humans. These wild dragons can fly but neither they nor the wyverns can beathe fire. Only the legendary ancestors of the modern dragon had this ability.

Amongst the flaws of the series, one of the worst is the the relative power magic has in this universe yet it is underutilized. For instance, In the last novel the new main antagonist attacks by creating huge tentacled swamp worms that batter down all defenses and seem impervious to most attacks. However, he only sends one wave of one worm per fort. Why wouldn't he continue sending worm after worm? From what I can tell using magic doesn't seem to be that taxing to him. His bag of magic tricks all seem to be based on making a big fire and throwing someone in. In return, many soldiers of the Argonath were killed by the worms, including dragons.

To me, however, the most annoying flaw is that Mr. Rowley often skips parts of narrative. For instance, in the first portion of the eponymous first novel Bazil and Relkin spend quite a bit of time trying to get into the army. Yet once they do get conscripted the story immediately shifts to a campaign against the Master's of Padmassa, jumping over the intervening campain against the Teetol people. Now I understand that the lesser campaign doesn't have much to do with the series' main plot against the evil wizards but it sure would have added alot to the story of Bazil and Relkin.

In fact, the novels mostly seem to fit into a pattern whereby the first half follows the adventures of Bazil and Relkin, often meaning little to the rest of the plot, then there is a massive battle against the bad guys, then everything gets wrapped up in a few pages. There are, of course, several exceptions to this pattern, but still. . .

Judging from the uniform size of each novel I'm guessing he had a contract for about 500 pages a book.

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