It’s been ages since I’ve encountered a worthwhile dragon-rider-type novel, and illustrator Todd Lockwood’s debut The Summer Dragon certainly didn’t disappoint! This first instalment in Lockwood’s THE EVERTIDE series tells the story of Maia, scion of a family of dragon-breeders who have tended the aeries of Riat for generations. In The Summer Dragon, the dragon riders are the sociopolitical elite, and Maia hopes to someday day bond with one of the dragons of Riat. When their nation Korruzon’s war against the Harodhi takes a turn for the worse, however, the government requisitions the entire brood from Riat, leaving Maia dragon-less. Compounding the problem is Maia and her brother’s sighting of the mythical Summer Dragon near their hometown, which drags Maia headfirst into the war with the Harodhi, a secret religious conflict that has been debated for millennia, and the secrets of the dragons themselves. With The Summer Dragon, Todd Lockwood weaves an action-filled tale of courage, dragons, and the meaning of family.
Perhaps the greatest strength of The Summer Dragon is the way Todd Lockwood makes his characters breathe. Of all the characters in the work, there are few that don’t seem real, tangible. All have clearly understandable and coherent motivations and personalities; for example, Maia’s faithfulness to her family contrasts with her rebellious nature and desire for freedom, while her love of dragons clashes with the cruelty that’s inherent in the world around her. There are very clear internal struggles that help develop the characters, and by the end of The Summer Dragon, it’s clear that Maia and Lockwood’s other characters have all changed significantly from their previous selves. In many ways, The Summer Dragon is a very character-driven work. Every plot twist occurs because of a specific aspect of a character’s personality, and that’s something I find very exciting.
Unfortunately, the plot of The Summer Dragon does disappoint a bit. The Summer Dragon is a very complex narrative that Lockwood pulls together skillfully, but there are a few weak points. While there’s no shortage of action scenes, the pacing feels off. At least to me, it seemed that there was no single, overarching plot line that truly takes dominance and connects all the dots together; rather, there are multiple subplots that compete for the spotlight. And maybe this is a function of the character-driven plot, maybe not. In any case, one of the subplots in The Summer Dragon peaks much too early (think in the first 40% of the work), which makes some of the pages in the middle of the novel feel too slow in comparison since there’s a whole new set of problems to be solved in the next few hundred pages. As a result of the early climax, The Summer Dragon feels like it’s trying to tell two different, highly segmented stories at once. I’m not really sure why Lockwood chose to weave the narrative in this way — except maybe to set up later events or a sequel — but the result does end up being somewhat imperfect. This plot structure definitely detracts somewhat from the excitement later in the work.
Overall, I think Todd Lockwood’s The Summer Dragon is definitely worth checking out. I do have a few other minor quibbles, but the key word here is “minor.” The prose is sometimes too blunt, which takes away from the imagery — however, this is a comparatively unnoticeable issue. So not only is The Summer Dragon an impressive debut, it’s an awesome contribution to high fantasy and in particular the dragon-riding genre, which I don’t think has been particularly prominent in recent years.