I will admit I was a little apprehensive about Flight of the Dragon Kyn. After all as a general rule prequels don't tend to be as good as their originals and I was tempted to go straight on to the third book, Sign of the Dove which is a direct sequel to Dragon’s Milk.
Ultimately what tipped the balance was the fact that Fletcher had after all written Flight before going on to give Dragon’s Milk a sequel and I didn't want to miss any references that might occur in the third volume. Plus despite my apprehension about prequels generally I did find Susan Fletcher's reasons for writing Flight interested me, since she found when writing Dragon’s Milk that a more extensive backstory was needed than for the initial updated fairy tale she planned, and Flight was a chance to share that backstory with her readers.
Flight of the Dragon Kyn takes place roughly a generation before Dragon's Milk and is the story of Kara, the Craggish girl mentioned as first having been cured of vermilion fever as a young child by being left in a dragon's cave where she drank its milk. The story opens ten years later with Kara, now fifteen being summoned by the king of Cragland who has sworn to his second wife to slay a dragon and who believes Kara's ability to mentally call birds down from the sky will also let her command dragons to come to his hunters.
The first thing I noticed about Flight is that Fletcher's style and especially her pacing had definitely improved. Though Flight is told in first person, Fletcher's ability to instantly make us aware of the sense and feeling of the book's environment was actually a step-up from that in Dragon's Milk. Apparently she had researched ancient Scandinavian culture, and those researches certainly paid off here with insights into details from costume to smell to even the construction and customs of Craggish steadings with their turf roofed timber buildings, rituals around bathing and different sorts of open longships. One particular high point of the book in terms of realism is the time Kara spends working in the King's mews and her friendship with Korwin the King's falconer. Again, Fletcher apparently had done a deal of research and even spent time learning from several professional falconers (the book is even dedicated to one), and her use of specialist language as well as her descriptions of the art of falconry in everything from the smell and feel to the temperament of the different birds almost reminded me of Robin Hobb's Farseer for its attention to detail.
One minor stylistic niggle I did have with the book was the way Fletcher's attempt to write in slightly archaic language often felt a little jarring, especially in character dialogue, and even more especially when Fletcher made a minor slip and included something modern, such as a small child exclaiming "me too”.
As well as her overall style, I also felt that the general pacing of Flight was a distinct improvement. While the book is approximately the same length as Dragon's Milk, the actual flow of events didn't feel quite as rushed or choppy, neither for the most part did the introduction of the various characters.
Despite the good pacing however, it is in its depiction of its central protagonist where matters start to come a little unstuck.
Though Kara is fifteen, she had a capacity to instantly make quick, snap judgements or go through sudden changes of mood which made her feel rather younger. For example, when first introduced to the King she initially plans to pretend she has no ability to call down birds and so force him to send her home, then suddenly due to feeling slighted changes her mind and decides she wishes to show off with a spectacular display. Likewise, her inconsistent attitude towards dragons and the King's intention of dragon hunting made her feel overall rather flaky, especially given her somewhat strange reassessment of matters when she finally realizes that slaying a dragon actually means killing it; my Lady described her as "dense" for this reason.
This rather capricious tendency also made problems for several character introductions, since while in Dragon's Milk Fletcher's style often presented characters with one and only one aspect leading to them feeling somewhat flat, in Flight it is more Kara's specific whim which makes characters feel this way. For example one man she takes an irrational dislike to without exchanging more than a couple of words; a dislike which also seems more than a little unfair given said man has actually been quite decent to her. It was this instant dislike which assured me said man would be Kara's love interest; a decision which again she seems to take rather arbitrarily, quite aside from the fact that a slight unfairness of focus in Fletcher's description did insure that said love interest got a little more time paid to him than the amorphous mass of the majority of vaguely unpleasant men you meet in the book. I also don't know if it is Kara's rather snap judgements or a lapse in Fletcher's writing which also makes the villain of the piece extremely and obviously villainous from the moment you see him, despite the fact that other characters such as King Oric, his formidable sister Goodien and even falconer Korwin, have a little more to them and their motivations than appears on the surface.
While I did bemoan the fact that we saw far less of dragons, and especially far less of exasperating baby draclings in this book, I did enjoy Kara's developing relationship with her Gyrfalcon Skava, a relationship which it turned out was absolutely central to the plot.
As well as being something of a creature of whim, Kara also seems a rather more passive character than Kaeldra, doubly odd given Fletcher's project of avoiding non traditional fairy tale roles for female characters, indeed on the one occasion Kara does attempt to strike out on her own she employs a ruse so obviously hackneyed it is almost laughable. It is this passivity which makes the world of flight feel a far safer one than that found in Dragon's Milk since Fletcher does not seem willing to have Kara taken or ordered or escorted somewhere and then run into something unpleasant because of it. This tendency is typified at one point later in the novel when Kara seems about to be beaten or even tortured up until the point her captor suddenly gets busy with another matter and simply orders her to be taken away, imprisoned comfortably and given anything she needs. This is quite a contrast to the extremely dire feeling of some of the life or death situations Kaeldra got into in Dragon's Milk.
Fortunately, despite these inequities however, Fletcher definitely raises her game towards the book's ending. We see some stark and brutal danger to Kara herself and her friends which finally shatters the feeling of safety, albeit I do wish Kara's actions in avoiding that danger and confronting the villain had been a little more than just a delaying action until the cavalry arrived and that Kara's decision to actually act independently had felt a little more like her growing up rather than another change of win on her part.
Much as Kaeldra did, Kara's ending saw her her happily married to her obvious love interest and an expectant mother, though again her decision to marry said man seemed rather out of left field. That being said, I enjoyed how the ending very much setup the events of Dragon's Milk and tied into the future of the world in both expected and unexpected ways and I do suspect that some of what Susan Fletcher setup will also come up in the trilogy's concluding volume. Additionally, for all that her relationship with her man felt a little cursory, I did like the way the ending tied in to Kara's bond with Skava and in turn to the history of the dragons and their place in the world.
In all while Flight of the Dragon Kyn served its purpose as a prequel well enough, it did not stand out quite as much as Dragon's Milk for all I did enjoy the way Fletcher depicted her world. Despite overall an improvement in the standard of writing generally, I found Kara simply a rather irritating and somewhat childish character to be around, a fact which sadly does bode well for the book's final volume simply on the basis that Kara will not be featuring in it.
Still, if you can accept Kara's inequities, and a better paced plot, some of the likeable secondary cast members and above all rich descriptions of the art of Falconry, you might get something from Flight of the dragon kyn despite the absence of adorable draclings!
Review by Dark
Winter from Timore
i really liked this book, when i bought it i didn't realise that it wasn't the first book in the series and it took me a chapter to realise and make sense of everything. i think that this is a great book and i definitely recommend it.
7.5/10 from 2 reviews