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E. E. Knight – Dragon Champion

December 18, 2009

134. Dragon Champion by E. E. Knight (2005)
The Age of Fire, Book 1

Read By: David Drummond
Length: 13h 52min (384 pages)

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Started: 07 October 2009
Finished: 02 November 2009

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I’ve read my way through all of the Temeraire books, so a new dragon book sounded like fun.

A baby dragon,
alone in the world, must fight
for his survival.

Summary: In Dragon Champion, E.E. Knight gives us a relatively standard high fantasy adventure story, with one big twist: it’s told entirely through the eyes of Auron, a dragon. Auron is a gray dragon, scaleless and without the hunger for treasure that plagues other dragons. His lack of armor makes him more vulnerable, and less immediately impressive, but also more adept at blending into his surroundings. After a fierce battle for primacy immediately post-hatching, Auron is the only male offspring left to his parents, the champion of their clutch. He’s bright and inquisitive, but his world is mostly limited to the confines of the cave in which he was hatched.

All of that changes on the day his cave is invaded by murderous dwarves. Auron’s parents are driven off or killed, and Auron must venture out into the world — first with one of his surviving sisters, and then later alone. His first goal is survival, but a meeting with an elf maiden opens his eyes to the real problem: it’s not just Auron’s survival that’s at risk, but the survival of his entire species. For dragon numbers have been decreasing for years, while the two-legged species — elves, dwarves, blighters, and especially men — have been increasing. Auron makes it his mission to find out why. Along the way, he makes some strange friends, faces some fierce and dangerous enemies, and must find a way to become the champion for which his parents named him.

Review: There’s a long tradition of animal stories in fantasy (although relatively few from the point of view of a strictly fantastical animal.) Their point is to show us the world through an unfamiliar set of eyes; by making the alien familiar, we are then forced to re-evaluate all of the elements we take for granted as unobjectionable. For this to work, we have to find a connection with our animal narrator, some common ground on which to build a base of sympathy. However, when a book opens with its protagonist disemboweling and eating his newly-hatched brother in a battle to the death, and when that same protagonist matter-of-factly mentions crushing the skulls of human children he’s seized for a snack… well, let’s just say that I found it somewhat hard to empathize with him.

My lack of connection with the book’s main character — and thus, with the book itself — may be a question of audiences. This book felt like it was aimed at 12-13 year olds. In and of itself, that’s not necessarily a problem — there’s plenty of fantasy out there for mid-grade readers that can also be enjoyed by adults. However, Dragon Champion felt like it was specifically written for mid-grade boys, with lots of emphasis on the fighting and adventure aspects. Having never been a 12-year-old boy, I can’t comment on how well they are likely to enjoy Auron’s story, but I suspect many of them will love it. For me, however, it didn’t quite make the jump into being a true crossover success.

That’s not to say that there weren’t elements I enjoyed. Knight’s world-building description is excellent. Even though he’s using pretty standard fantasy elements and races, the way they interact felt new, and I really enjoyed seeing each species’s perspective on the origin of the world and its current state. Some of Auron’s adventures were also very interesting — I particularly got a kick out of his brief sojourn with a wolf pack. (Also fun in this part was listening to David Drummond, who was otherwise quite good, try to narrate their howling dialogue.)

The problem with single-protagonist stories like Dragon Champion is that their success is entirely dependent on how strongly the reader empathizes with the main character. When it works, it’s great, and readers who empathize with Auron are likely to find Dragon Champion to be an exciting fantasy adventure story. For those of us who don’t particularly care for Knight’s leading dragon, however, it becomes very hard to stay involved in the story. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Mid-grade and young adult fantasy fans who can’t get enough dragons will likely love it; for older readers, I think reactions will vary depending on how much you like the main character.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: E. E. Knight’s Website

Other Reviews: Grasping for the Wind
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The hatchling tasted his first air.

Cover Thoughts: Assuming that’s supposed to be Auron on the cover, he doesn’t look quite like how I pictured him. He’s scaleless, so I pictured his skin as being smoother… plus he’s gray, not gold. It’s otherwise very dramatic, though.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2009 12:37 pm

    I think the opening scene would have been enough to turn me off. Especially the part about the human children’s skulls.

    • December 26, 2009 4:46 pm

      Alyce – Yeah, despite how many fights my brother and I got into when we were little, opening the book with the protagonist feasting on the entrails of his siblings just kind of put me off.

  2. December 12, 2011 7:43 pm

    Haven’t read this one yet. Your reviews are incredibly well thought and organized! It’s hard to say if I would like this one. I enjoy dragon books, but not much in the YA category. I’d rather read Mercedes Lackey. I highly recommend Robert Asprin for the fantasy genre.

    -Eliabeth Hawthorne


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