Recent Read Review & Foundations in Fantasy.
Dragon’s Domain by Thorarinn Gunnarsson
This cover enchanted its way into my haul at the school book fair. Almost thirty years later, I decided on a whim to seek another copy for my shelves and see why it stayed with me. While I had a vague recollection of the story, it quickly returned with each page. Yet, I took something different from this read-through.
Both then and now the story instilled in me a profound sense of sadness. Dragons are dying. That’s tragic in my universe. The front cover warns, “The dragons are doomed to die—but not without a fight.” But now that I am older, I can see a new message beneath the tragedy of the dragons.
The ominous portent on the cover hangs like a pall over the story. A dread of inevitability.
Having stared down cancer, I know it better now.
I remembered a feeling of grief and even felt it a bit as I opened the book to begin my second read. It wasn’t simply a figment of my youthful memory. The world of magic and dragons is fading away, and that loss permeates the pages.
After adding a few decades of experience, I can feel that same loss from Einar, the human POV for the story. Preteen me was infuriated by what was happening to the dragons, and a bit resentful about the ending. Yet now I see it a bit clearer.
This is a story about coping with grief and learning to move on. I can only imagine that the author grieved the absence of some magic in his own life just as much as Einar. You can feel a personal note to that side of the story.
Huge bonus! This book is done from the majority POV of a dragon, Kalavek. This was the first book that I remember encountering this feature, and I imagine that is part of the nostalgia. I love dragons. Always have, always will.
The dragons of this book are ancient and powerful, secretive and wise. They have reigned for eons while other races came and went. They are immortal. They thought they were eternal. But they are dying. The age of dragons is ending, and for all their ageless wisdom, they don’t know how to prevent it.
A last budding hope—two newly born dragons among the remaining tribes. The main character is Kalavek burdened with all the hope of his dying race. He must grow quickly and travel west to the mountains and forests of Norway to meet his female counterpart, Ayesha.
The two dragons grow up together, coping with the awkward challenges of building a relationship while an entire species’ existence rests on their willingness to mate. Like most young creatures, they get into a few scrapes along the way. As great as dragons are, there are dangers in the world.
The dragons call them shadows. They appear identical to them, but they are black with red glowing eyes and determined to extinguish the last of the true dragons. Their main targets are young Kalavek and Ayesha. But the dragons are resilient and have some advantages over their enemies.
As Kalakek grows up, his determination to save his species leads him on a quest to return magic to the world. Along the way, he befriends the human, Einar Myklathun, an old widower forest ranger.
Finding their way through a contentious relationship, Kalavek and Einar join forces to save the dragons. One desperate to find the magic to save his race, the other feeling a magic and purpose he hadn’t felt since his wife passed. And while neither finds precisely what they seek, both achieve the peace to move on.
I loved and hated the ending. I knew it was coming. That was one part that I remembered from before. But it felt different this time. I still hated it, but it left me with hope. There is a final scene towards the end that warms my heart to the point of being a bit teary-eyed, and that made the journey worth it.
Is it a fantastic literary marvel? No. But it’s a decent story. And it’s about dragons, so that adds ten points for me. While the writing feels more directed to younger readers, the message rings much more clearly to a middle-aged me. And for that reason, I am glad that I read it again. I’m happy to return it to my collection, where it belongs as a part of my Foundations in Fantasy.
Last note- This is definitely a book that won me with its cover. When I discovered that it was the fourth book in the series, I looked up the other books. I confess that I likely would not have picked the others up at first glance. But the image on this cover stuck with me for several decades. I didn’t even remember the title or author, just the description of this cover. I have shared it in reading groups over the years and was fortunate to finally find someone who recognized the description this year. Now that’s an impressive cover.