Feb 27, 2009

Dragon's Blood

by Jane Yolen

My first exposure to Jane Yolen was her Pit Dragon series, and these books have always remained my favorites of hers. They are set on an imaginary planet which was first seen as uninhabitable and used as a dumping ground for criminals. Some of them survived, and a rough civilization arose out of the extreme desert climate. Very few animals and plants on Austar IV were useful to humans, but the people managed to domesticate large winged lizards they called dragons. The society of Austar IV is based on a system of indentured servitude- masters and bondsmen- and full of gambling, drugs and prostitution. Betting is huge part of the economy, largely based on dragon fights in the "pits".

The main character in Dragon's Blood is a teenage boy, Jakkin, who is a bondsman on a large dragon farm. His days are full of drudgery- mucking out dragon stalls, grooming and feeding the beasts. But unlike most of his companions who loathe their occupation, Jakkin likes working with the dragons and wants to train his own. He plans to steal an egg from his master, then raise and train the dragon in secret in the desert, hoping to buy his freedom with money he can earn from pit fights. His plan is fraught with danger and unforseen difficulties, but he finds an unexpected ally in his master's daughter, Akki. She's one of the stronger characters in the book, which makes up a little bit for the fact that on Austar IV, it's an accepted fact that most women are in "baggeries" (this aspect of the society is not a major part of the story, but only hinted at).

Even though this book has a very uncouth society, I didn't find it objectionable because it fit with the harsh setting and history. And although Jakkin based his gamble for freedom on thievery, I still found his character sympathetic and even admirable at times. I really liked how the dragons were depicted. Like Anne McCaffrey's dragons, Yolen's are telepathic- but very few people actually communicate with them, and the dragons do not "speak" in words and sentences; instead they form mental pictures with colors and shapes. They are quite believable creatures with individual personalities that don't reach above their bestial nature. I will always picture them as I saw in the original illustrations, which graced the covers of the first paperbacks I picked up in this series. I've seen many new issues since then with different images, none as good as the first. Does anyone know the artist's name? I've been unable to find it (my own copy is a hardback, with a different cover).

Rating: 4/5                    304 pages, 1982

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Nymeth said...

I wish I could help about the artist.

This sounds like a series I'd really, really enjoy.

Jeane said...

I'd be able to figure it out easily if I had one of those old paperbacks in my hand, but all the copies I find at libraries are newer ones... I think you'd like this series! The second and third books get more complex about the planet's society (not as focused on the dragons) and I just found out there's a fourth one coming out in May!

Marg said...

I only recently read my first Jane Yolen book, Briar Rose, and I thought it was excellent.

An Anonymous Child said...

I read this trilogy a few years ago. I remember finding the last book totally trippy. I can't help in terms of the cover, seeing as my editions are super new and shiny, but you've given me the urge to reread this series. I suddenly remember nothing from it...

Jenny said...

Oh, wow, I haven't thought about these books for ages. My sister gave me Dragon's Blood for my thirteenth birthday, so I'm sure I still have it somewhere. I remember being enthralled by them at the time.

Jeane said...

Marg- I liked Briar Rose, too.

Anonymous Child- well, perhaps my little reviews will remind you a bit! The third book really took me by surprise, too. I was not expecting it to go in that direction.

Jenny- Enthralled is just the right word. I must have read the series half a dozen times when I was a teen.