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(Winterlands #1)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  6,431 ratings  ·  419 reviews
When the Black Dragon seized the Deep of Ylferdun, young Gareth braved the far Winterlands to find John Aversin, Dragonsbane -- the only living man ever to slay a dragon. In return for the promise of the King to send help to the Winterlands, Aversin agreed to attempt the nearly impossible feat again.
With them, to guard them on the haunted trip south, went Jenny Waynest, a
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 12th 1987 by Del Rey Books (first published 1985)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  6,431 ratings  ·  419 reviews

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Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, own
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths.

Dragonsbane is a novel I read upon release back in 1985. Obviously, the world was a different place back then, I was a different person (young teenager) and fantasy was of a different flavor. Even at the time though, I knew that Barbara Hambly had gifted her readers with a refreshingly mature fantasy which would stand the test of time.

In the northlands, Jenny Waynest is a not-so-young-anymore sorceress, half-trained, who splits her time between learning her cra
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Dragonsbane is a fantasy book written by the underrated Barbara Hambly. It covers about 3 to 4 days for most of the book, and the magic in them comes from witches. But the real magician here is the author. She spins her yarn patiently, letting us wait until the things that are simmering come to a boil.

The influence of Tolkien is obvious, although younger readers might find it subtle. But is this book for younger readers? The main characters are grownups with grownup problems. I found Jenny charm
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sff
Hambly writes adults, a rarity in the fantasy genre; in particular, Dragonsbane is a depiction of middle-aged regret, of people who because of historical circumstances and personal situations will never achieve what they dream of, and somehow Hambly writes it in a way that's not depressing and that appealed to me even as an adolescent unsympathetic to the failure to achieve. Also, the dragons are cool.

Under no conditions read the sequels. In fact, let us agree that the publishing records lie and
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I had never heard of Hambly but I am impressed. In the world of sword and sorcery, most authors find it convenient to go the "hack and slash" route with the beautiful maiden thrown in to make the hero "extra-heroic". Few are willing to invest what Tolkien did in creating a whole world that has humans and other intelligent creatures.

Hambly is more than able in this regard, giving us both a deep study of relationships and a threat to the order of the world. Her view of magic is complex and nuanced
3.5 stars, though not sure if I should round up for the subversive narrative and character-driven writing style because I feel like I should judge this book by the standards of the time period in which it was written--the 80s--and not judge it by what I normally like/prefer in high fantasy--books written much later in the 90s and beyond.

Even though it's called Dragonsbane and the Dragonsbane is a knight named John Aversin, the whole story is told from the perspective of his mageborn partner, Jen
Feb 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
When a huge black dragon descends upon the Deep of Ylferdun, young Gareth sets out to find the Dragonsbane, the only man alive who has ever defeated a dragon. But Sir John Aversin is not what Gareth had hoped for—he’s a scruffy academic who is less concerned about honor than he is the health of his villagers’ pigs. And Aversin’s lady love is not what Gareth had expected either: a plain, middle-aged witch, who has borne Aversin two sons out of wedlock and is utterly unapologetic. Swallowing his m ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was advised to read this in terms of: Never mind the blurb, the key hooks are the loving adult relationship of the protags and the 'subversive' take on S&S. I agree with the recommender.

New word: cicisbeo. Lots of unfamiliar words, too.

"her anger had no hate in it, offering him no hold upon her"

"the blood-red and buttercup hues of the palace guards"

I love the horses' names: Battlehammer, Osprey, Moon Horse, Stupid Roan, Stupider Roan, and Cow.

I love that wounds take time to heal and leave scar
Occasionally, in discussions of SFF, you'll see readers bemoaning the lack of books that feature (1) older women (2) non-pretty women (3) mothers who get to do things. Dragonsbane has all of these things, in interesting ways and, while it begins by seeming to be a deconstruction of romantic stories of noble knights slaying evil dragons, it is primarily a story of (the limits of) female ambition.

(view spoiler)
Jamie Collins
Aug 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A very nice traditional fantasy story that deliberately throws over a handful of clichés - for instance, our heroes are middle-aged lovers, prosaically named John and Jenny, and the dragon slayer is wry and academic rather than imposing and martial.

More typical is Gareth, the indignant court messenger who comes seeking a hero out of a ballad and finds a man as much involved with pig farming as lording. Also, the beautiful yet evil witch who has enthralled the king is a predictable villain. But I
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
My first Barbara Hambly book, and it is an entertaining discovery. An epic fantasy without huge armies clashing , without an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it threat , without bloated descriptions of dresses or foodstuff. It has instead a couple of mature and reluctant heroes, with a convincing loving relationship, it has a focus of personal introspection and painful life choices, it has a well done dragon - alien in body and mentality.

the book works well as a standalone, and deserves to be conside
Allison ☾
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing

"Do not be a fool, Jenny Waynest. All the knowledge of the dragons, all their power, is yours, and all the years of time. You will forget the loves of the earth soon and be healed. The diamond cannot love the flower, for the flower lives only a day, then fades and dies. You are a diamond now.”

“The flower dies,” Jenny said softly, “having lived. The diamond will never do either.”

It’s hard for me to describe this book because I felt like much of the story was meant to be allegorical. Like one
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Hey, this is really good! It doesn’t beat out The Ladies of Mandrigyn as my favorite Hambly, but that’s because Mandrigyn is awesome; this is a strong second. Please ignore the cover and blurb, though, as they appear designed to fool you into thinking this is a different sort of book from what it actually is. You’d never guess that Jenny is the main character, for instance. I’m not sure why the deception, as this will be immediately obvious to anyone who opens the book.

Jenny and John are not you
If you only read the back cover of Dragonsbane, or even the teaser excerpt before the title page in the paperback version of the novel, you might think it was all about John Aversin, the Dragonsbane, and his quest to kill the dragon, Morkeleb. Man vs. monster, a tale as old as tales are. But it won't be long before you realize that Jenny Waynest, a witch frustrated in her search for magic power (and also lovers with John, and the mother of their two children), is the sole point of view.

Jenny dea
Probably cheesy to some but an escapist gem. Maybe I love it because I first read it when I needed escape. Very easy to lose myself in Hambly's beautiful writing. Also, you know that musical phrase, that sunset on an empty beach, that gesture that can bring tears to your eyes? This book had many of those for me. Poignancy? Beauty? Romance in the sense of the movement, not the checkout counter paperbacks?

Plenty of action, psychological metaphors, humor. Still love this tale.
Lord John Aversin is known as "Dragonsbane", for the dragon he killed long ago; when another dragon threatens the kingdom, Lord Gareth goes north to the Winterlands to find John and ask him for help. When Gareth and John go south, they are accompanied by the witch Jenny Waynest, John's lover and mother of his two sons, who has long been torn between her desire for more magical power and her love for John. Their encounter with the dragon, Morkeleb the Black, is only the start of the challenges th ...more
May 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Really terrific. This is my first Hambly book, and I was so impressed. I had to put the book down for a moment at page 172, and I was amazed to find that so much had been conveyed in so few pages, and yet the pacing never felt rushed, and the characters and the world they lived in seemed so fully fleshed out. The focus on "mature" lovers/adventurers was also a refreshing change from so much of fantasy, and the exploration of the internal war between the idealized self and the mundane self was th ...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
May 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
3.5 stars
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from_library, fantasy
Mentioned by Brandon Sanderson as the book that got him interested in reading and set him on his ultimate career path, he noted it's not a traditional fantasy. For a non-traditional fantasy, it sure has some standard elements: an enchantress, a witch, a warrior, courtiers, gnomes, and, of course, a dragon. These elements are all done well, though, so they are enjoyable. I've read Barbara Hambly before (Children of the Jedi), but this was better. The descriptions are enough to give you a really g ...more
Jun 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes fantasy or romance
Shelves: fantasy
In this, one of her more recognizable works, Barbara Hambly demonstrates her great potential as an author and that she perhaps deserves more respect and recognition than she gets. 'Dragonsbane' is a well written, imaginative, and mature (in all the best and truest senses of the word) fantasy story with well drawn and complex characters. Additionally, Hambly spends a good deal of time demythologizing her mythology and the mythology of the faerie story and heroic epic in general, but manages to av ...more
Katherine Harbour
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is my favorite fantasy series about dragons. Barbara Hambly's medieval world is so detailed, you feel like you're there. Jenny Waynest is a woman who was taught a sort of backwoods sorcery and her lover John Aversin is the only man ever known to have slain a dragon. These two world-weary characters are invited to the king's court by an awkward but well intentioned prince named Gareth...only to find the court under the spell of a seductive sorceress named Zyerne. The characters are beautiful ...more
Rachel Brown
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Fifteen years ago, Jenny Waynest and John Aversin slew a dragon. Now they're middle-aged, with kids... and called upon to save the world when another dragon appears.

One of my very favorite fantasies. Wonderful characterization, witty dialogue, poignant personal and moral dilemmas, and a fantastic dragon.

It was written as a stand-alone, and has a perfect ending. Some terrible, depressing sequels were written 15 years later. Ignore them.
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I know it's a cliche, but I love how Hambly creates engaging women characters in her fantasy books. ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Surprisingly awesome!
1/2/18 $1.99 for Kindle.
Jun 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
An imaginative work of female-led fantasy that has respectful and respectable characters both male and female, this is an interesting and exciting adventure through magic and politics that doesn’t bloat itself or overdo anything. Although this book does have sequels, this ends nicely and works well on its own.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 17, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5 stars for this fantasy, which I listened to (good narration).

The "Dragonsbane" is the hero of song and story, about whom bards sing ballads. He's the great warrior who slew a dragon ten years ago.

Gareth, a young nobleman from the king's court, is fond of dragon ballads. Idealistic -- and desperate — Gareth comes north to seek aid in killing a new dragon ravaging the king's southern territories. However, he is surprised at what he finds, for the legendary warrior — bane of the dragons — is
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like dragons, magic, awesome female protagonists and antagonists and male characters outside the hegemonic masculinity, you'll enjoy this book. On a side note, I could definitely feel the final conflict of the protagonist. ...more
Edward Rathke
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was pretty great. I preferred it a great deal to the other Hambly novel I read.

This takes a lot of fantasy tropes and doesn't so much subvert them as much as it twists them into very interesting new directions. The novel is also structured in a peculiar way, kind of always twisting away from what you think it's going to be.

But ultimately it's a love story between two reluctant heroes. One just wants to do right by the people he's responsible for. The other is caught up in her search and des
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aka Barbara Hamilton

Ranging from fantasy to historical fiction, Barbara Hambly has a masterful way of spinning a story. Her twisty plots involve memorable characters, lavish descriptions, scads of novel words, and interesting devices. Her work spans the Star Wars universe, antebellum New Orleans, and various fantasy worlds, sometimes linked with our own.

"I always wanted to be a writer but everyone

Other books in the series

Winterlands (4 books)
  • Dragonshadow (Winterlands, #2)
  • Knight of the Demon Queen (Winterlands, #3)
  • Dragonstar (Winterlands, #4)

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When it comes to whiling away the dog days of summer, nothing is better than a good book. Or two. Or three. Let’s say ten! We’re getting...
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“But that was the first thing I had to learn about her, and maybe the hardest I’ve ever learned about anything—that she is her own, and what she gives me is of her choosing, and the more precious because of it. Sometimes a butterfly will come to sit in your open palm, but if you close your hand, one way or the other, it—and its choice to be there—are gone.” 13 likes
“Dragonsbane, they called him.

Slayer of dragons.

Or a dragon, anyway. And, he'd later found out, not such a very big one at that.”
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