Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
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Strewth! A book set on a barren wasteland of a planet called Austraria 4 that's filled with people descended from convicts. I wonder what the author's inspiration was?

Good *insert time of day* to all reading this, and let me open with an apology. The very obvious riffing on 'Straya in this book has woke a dark part of my subconscious and since misery loves company, I've decided to let it take part in writing this review. You can stop reading now if you want, I won't blame you.

"Review of what" you say? Well, Dragon's Blood is a YA book from the 80s and it's about a world where the economy is based on debt slavery, with most people owned by a Master, usually an owner of dragons, with dragons being used for pit fighting and with a lot of money passing hands in the gambling on them. We follow a young slave as he steals a young dragon in the hope of earning enough money to secure his freedom. So if the world is Australia meets Pern with added pit fighting and slavery, because everything outside of real life is better with pit fighting and slavery. Apparently.

I read part of it in an anthology on dragons long, long ago and it stuck with me, so I eventually decided to give the whole book a go.

Crikey! What's with you reading books you found when you were an ankle biter? You've not gone two slices of bread shy of a sanger have you, mate?

Call it unfinished business. I always wondered what the whole story's like and now I know. I'm as sane as the next person writing reviews in the form of a conversation with the most annoying parts of their psyche. And you made that expression up.

Good on ya mate.

Anyway. I was a bit surprised by how this book actually is. Thanks to the small sample, I expected lots of blokes with dragons and fighting.

Most of it's actually about Jakkin, our hero, having a sh*t old life, mainly because the bloke in charge of him is this bitter old drongo who's always a bit weird because he loves his smoko. Sometimes its good because he's with the dragon he stole. And sometimes it's okay because he's with his mates, even if they're ribbing him because they think all the time he's sneaking off to see his dragon he's actually going down the local whorehouse, or hanging around with the one girl on the farm who's so hot she should be in a whorehouse. A friendly egalitarian society this isn't. I've seen a few people on Goodreads being all "this is a bit bloody dark for a kid's book" but kids seem to love a bit of dystopia, so I reckon that's probably all good. It's more picaresque than fight the power though.

And, well, it is a bit weird.

No wuckas on a bit weird. Good fantasy's defo meant to be a bit weird.

True.

I'm not sure whether this is good though. It reads fast and has some good moments but I never felt truly gripped. I think part of that is a bit of tonal confusion. Is it meant to be a feel good romp? A critique of a corrupt society? A trouble coming of age? It feels like Yolen's trying to do a lot of things here and as a result, never persuaded me that she'd done any of them. I said it's more picaresque than fight the power, but it's not really either. It's more a mostly pleasant few hours worth of passing time.

Oh - and the Australian thing? Despite the clear signal of "it's like Australia", it doesn't really feel 'Strayan. Now, I'll admit my knowledge of our dear cousins down under is based on stereotypes and all the funny stuff various Australian friends have shared with me, and half of that's stuff that probably shouldn't be in a YA book (but that YAs really want in their books), so maybe it's not totally accurate, but it felt like it could have been based off anywhere. And that's not such a bad thing, but it was a missed opportunity to add a bit more colour and "wow" to a book that doesn't quite ignite.

Hold the phono there mate. You mean this isn't true blue at all and I've been speaking funny for no reason at all? I'm devo.

You're part of my mind. You knew this. You're doing this because I've got a warped sense of humour.

Fair Dinkum.

Do any actual Australians say that?

The good news is that I have answered a small niggling curiousity. I do have a continuing small niggling curiousity as to how it all ends, but I imagine that'll keep another thirty odd years.

And that sentence really could have been the review without needing to read me going troppo. Good, but not that good.
 

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