Today's book review is Dragonmaster by Chris Bunch.
This appears to be the first book in a series. It ends at a reasonable point for a book in a series, no cliffhanger but some important things unresolved.
I really wanted to like this book. I have a weakness for fluffy fantasy adventures with dragons, which I expected this to be. Unfortunately, even given my bias, I have to say that this book was pretty bad. Things kept happening that just didn't seem to fit in the world; the world itself seems to be vaguely defined so that whatever the plot requires at the moment can be pulled out of it. The dragons themselves are ineffectual in some cases but deadly in others. They're extremely dangerous even to their handlers some of the time but docile enough that their handlers can be completely complacent other times. They have about the intelligence of a horse, except for a couple of places that clearly hint at more, but then the hints aren't followed. Most of the individual scenes are decent, but there are so many places where things just don't fit that it's very hard to stay immersed in the story. I did enjoy it some, but "peasant kid becomes a dragon rider" should be a slam dunk for me.
4 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- SPOILERS ****
Hal Kailas, good-hearted poor kid from the sticks, finds the local bully Nanpean Tregony tormenting a baby dragon for fun. Using a handy stick, he seriously injures Nanpean and drives his cronies away, returns the dragon to its nest (dodging the angry mother dragon), and then runs away from home, because Nanpean is the child of the local lord. On a crazy whim, he decides to see if he can ride a dragon, so he sneaks into the nest, hops on the dragon, flies a bit, and luckily survives being shaken off. He seems to believe this is an unprecedented feat. Then he's going down the road and a man flies over on a dragon. Hal discovers that the man is Altheny, a traveling entertainer who gives tourists dragon rides. Hal is devastated that he doesn't have enough money to make the fee, but manages to get a ride in exchange for cleaning the wagon. He is such a willing worker that he gets hired on to the company and starts to get a little training, but Altheny is stingy with his secrets. Then Altheny, a compulsive gambler, loses his dragon in a card game, steals the dragon he lost, gets shot escaping, and is never seen again. War is brewing, and Hal gets press-ganged. He does well as a soldier and manages to get a transfer into a dragon wing. (From not knowing that it was possible to ride a dragon to dragons being part of the army.) Unfortunately the dragon wing is commanded by a twit, but Hal does get a dragon. He's the worst student in the wing and almost washes out. Then he has sex with his girlfriend and in a blinding flash of insight finds the similarity between dragon riding and sex and instantly he's a natural. The army only uses dragons as scouts, but Hal manages to be the first person to come up with the idea of using them in combat. (Except for the two sides' scouts' dragons fighting each other with their riders trying to hang on, dragons don't fight.) At first, the light crossbows he invents are only effective against humans, but somewhere in there they start to be very effective against dragons as well. A bunch of improbable battles occur, involving preposterous numbers of forces and casualties for the size of the society and the logistics described. Hal's girlfriend is killed. Hal is badly injured, forced to retire, but he recovers full use of his body through sheer determination and goes back into service. Nanpean shows up again, now a dragonrider and very good at killing enemy dragons despite still being a sadistic asshole. Then Nanpean is proven to be a traitor, and Hal has to kill him when all of the rest of the people ordered to be prepared to arrest him are so shocked that they let him get away. We never explain how someone who's really working for the enemy manages to account for more dragon kills than anyone except Hal; it seems likely that the enemy would have been better off without him. At the end of the book, Hal is challenged by Ky Yasin, the leader of the troublesome enemy black dragons. Hal expects treachery at the challenge and provides his own counter-ambush, but Yasin escapes. Hal assists the wizard in magically destroying the gates of the city they're besieging, but his dragon is injured and he goes down in the city, only to be saved just in time when his own army comes in.