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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