Roxane's Reviews > Fendragon

Fendragon by Barbara Hambly
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Oct 03, 2010

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bookshelves: fantasy, cercle-d-atuan-bookclub, gender
Read from August 02 to 31, 2010 — I own a copy

Cercle d'Atuan August 2010

If you read the back cover, it might lead you into thinking that this is your traditional epic fantasy with wizards, dragons and knights ready to give up their lives for the greater good. Well, there is a bit of that, but it's also anything *but* that.
To put it bluntly, you'll be bored to no ends if all you're looking for are epic battles and complex political intrigues. Despite the fact that I didn't really know what to expect from this novel (this is my first experience of Barbara Hambly), I was a bit thrown off before understanding what Dragonsbane was truly about.
Hambly's style is abstract and elliptic and that alone requires a bit getting used, but once you do, you realize just how well it actually serves the novel. As previously mentioned, if you're looking for epic battles, might want to look somewhere else; there is a battle with a dragon at some point, but the reader is not privy to its details and well the novel's other battles are of a magical nature and you won't really know what's going on until they're over.
What this story has that lacks in a great many fantasy novels is the spot on characterization of its main characters: the witch Jenny, the dragon slayer John and the dragon Morkeleb. Together, they form a nice little triangle that makes for some priceless dialogs and situations. The novel is clearly driven by these three and not so much by its main plot. To be quite honest, the other characters are not as strongly developed as Jenny, John and Morky ;-) and that is probably one of the novel's main flaws. When you realize the wonders Hambly's done with these three, you know she could've done a lot better with the others. I can get over the wonky plot, the dragging parts (though it's only 200 pages long), the hardly credible villain because they are not what the novel is about. It's about choices and more specifically Jenny's (but John and Morkeleb are also faced with delicate situations) and how in the end, there is no single right choice because choosing always implies giving up on something else. This bitter sweet truth is at the heart of Dragonsbane and in that regard, it is beautifully executed.
I can see how and why some of my fellow Atuanians were quite taken with this novel. And despite my reserves, I can recognize that it has a great many qualities. The thing is, it did not sweep me off my feet.
First off, the introduction of Jenny's character annoyed me a great deal and pushed all the wrong buttons. Jenny's her own woman, living alone despite being the mother of two young boys who live with their father, she's a talented enough witch, not without physical charms, who can take care of herself in hostile territory as proven in the first chapter when she saves a young nobleman whose head is filled with heroic tales of dragon slayers. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at that first scene, thinking that it read like your classic fanfiction with Jenny posing as Mary Sue. Did the author really have to make Jenny the complete opposite of the docile housewife without any nuances? Let me reassure you, nuances come later on and Jenny becomes a likeable enough character fairly quickly after this. Still, this did not leave me in a positive set of mind. Add to that the fact that I struggled with Hambly's abstract descriptions all throughout the first chapters, being forced to re-read certain parts because I simply did not understand what was going on the first time around!
With regard to Jenny's introduction, I guess it would have bothered me a lot less had I paid attention to the fact that the novel was published twenty-five years ago. Gender roles and perception have changed a lot in twenty-five years and while I would not claim that men and women are now equal, your contemporary fantasy writer does not need to spell out so bluntly that his/her female character can take care of herself, because we all assume that she can (and if she can't, I'm not reading your book!). Or am I just being naive again?
Anyway, this was a nice change from your traditional epic fantasy with a strong focus on its main characters and not much going on plot wise. Not for all, but recommended to those looking for something else in the fantasy genre.
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