by Gabe Hudson
eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017
Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017
Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.
There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.
Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.
This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).
I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.
There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.
There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.
Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.
I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.