by Donita K. Paul
Having finished this series now, I can definitely say that Dragonfire, the fourth book, was by far my least favorite of the five. While I had rather ambivalent feelings towards the first two books (and the last, as we shall see later), and thoroughly enjoyed the third, Dragonfire was a disappointment.
First off, it takes place several years after the close of Dragonknight. In that book, Bardon thought a lot about Kale, and sometimes even thought about his feelings for her, but Kale herself didn’t appear until towards the end of the book. When she did, Bardon was still uncertain of what their future should look like, but it was obvious that romance was very possible at some point. Then, suddenly, in Dragonfire they’ve been married for several years. All of Paul’s books feel like they’re starting in the middle (I’ve spoken before about her irritating habit of dropping the protagonist into a potentially fatal situation within the first ten pages of every book), but Dragonfire far more so – far too much has happened since we met all these characters last, and left me feeling emotionally detached from everyone. Then, Paul separates Bardon and Kale by having them sent on separate quests. Both of them are quite distraught about this, but it really felt hollow because they were separated throughout most of Dragonknight, too, and we’ve not had a chance to see them working together as husband and wife. They go on and on about what an amazing connection they have and how they’re able to do all this great stuff together, but it’s all just secondhand news.
The other books have all had a bit of a weakness about villains and their destruction, but Dragonfire takes the cake. It all feels very aimless, and the threat doesn’t feel threatening. Per usual, everything just sort of fizzles out in the end anyway.
And finally, something that’s really annoyed me throughout the whole series, but especially in this book – the whole concept of high/low races vs. random creatures. There are no rules! I mentioned some of the different races and creatures in my post about the first two books, and I guess what’s confusing to me is what exactly constitutes a “race” versus what constitutes just an animal. All the so-called “high races” are definitely human-like in the sense that they are thinking, feeling beings who speak a common language. Out of the theoretically-seven-but-I-count-eight “low races,” this isn’t always true. Some of them, like bisonbecks and ropmas, are thinking beings, and are even capable of becoming followers of Wulder (the god in this story). Others, like blimmets and druddums, just seem to be animal-like. They have no spoken language or any kind of culture. This lack of definition made things rather confusing, as Paul attempts to change the theology of her fictional country. She initially said that the low races had been created by the Pretender, but then we’re told that the Pretender can’t actually create; only Wulder can, so the low races are actually creatures that the Pretender has twisted for his own evil purposes. But this still doesn’t explain why druddums aren’t just animals – some of the non-speaking low races are destructive, yes, but others (I forget which one) just lives in caves and they run around and run into people but never really attack them or anything, so why are they a low race instead of an animal?? I can’t explain why this is annoying to me, but it is. Maybe it’s because it’s just an illustration of how I felt like Paul was making up world-rules as she went along, and attempted to hide the fact by keeping things super confusing. Truly excellent fantasy writing can create a complicated world in a simple, understandable way.
Overall, Dragonfire felt like Paul was trying too hard to force rules and characters to work in her story, instead of letting it grow naturally. It’s mostly frustrating because I feel like her world has a lot of potential. 2/5.