ARCs (advanced reading copies) are the mystery boxes of my library. The number of books that are published, even just in fantasy and sci-fi, is astounding. In order to make choices about which of the many releases to actually read, I put a lot of work in before acquiring books. When I purchase a book, it is usually only after I have read about the book, read reviews, seen the goodreads score, and talked to some friends. Due to this, it is usually only books I like that make it to my nightstand. ARCs are not like that. An ARC has little to no reviews when you receive them, none of your friends have even heard of the book, and you don’t get to decide which ARCs you read; publishers do. This results in ARCs being wild cards for me, which I actually like. Its nice to go into something completely unaware. Sometimes it results in me getting to read the next big thing, like Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, before anyone else. Other times it ends in reading books I dislike. Sometimes I don’t review these books because you are essentially murdering someone’s child; and if you don’t have constructive comments to make other than “it’s bad”, it’s better to say nothing. Other times I don’t enjoy the book, but can talk about what I did not like, leaving me with the unpleasant job of giving a book a bad review. The later was the unfortunate experience I with The Dragon Round, by Stephen S. Power.
To begin with, I did not finish The Dragon Round. I got almost 50 percent of the way through before having to put it down and walk away. The book has enough strengths that if you told me the 2nd half was amazing I could believe you; but the middle of the book made me quit, rending any potential greatness obsolete. The Dragon Round is a revenge story. The back of the book will inform you that it is the story of a ship captain, betrayed and marooned on an island, who finds a dragon and uses it to enact revenge. This is a very good plot summary of what seems to be the entire book (or at least what I read), but the problem comes with the telling of the story itself.
The book actually began strong, showing our protagonist at sea racing a clock to bring medicine home to his city. The initial world building is excellent, and I really enjoyed the description and interactions of the sailors as they ran the boat. The ship ends up in a fight with a dragon, barely pulling through, resulting in the stranding of the captain and his doctor on an island. Here is where the problems begin.
To begin with we have the captain and the doctor. The doctor is a woman from a different culture that apparently does not seem eye to eye with the captains. I say apparently, because this is not at all clear. The nations and peoples of the world were not established enough in my mind to understand half of the interactions between our two protagonists. In addition, although the reader knows before hand that the two depart the island to exact their revenge, it seems like the two protagonists also know it the entire time as well. There is not any real urgency to their actions, and they do not feel like two people stranded on an island awaiting their deaths. However, this might be due to another problem with the book, the island is not that threatening. Only a short while after landfall our protagonists reach self-sustainment, killing a lot of the excitement and momentum of the book. The island does not provide increasingly challenging dangers and made me think of an alternate storyline of The Martian where in the entire plot was him simply farming potatoes until rescue. And finally, we have the dragon.
Dragons have always been creatures of unparalleled power, beauty, and danger to me in fantasy. Yet, somehow The Dragon Round manages to make them boring. After finding and bonding with a dragon, the escape plan becomes “wait until it grows large enough to fly us”. A solid plan, but one that unfortunately does not seem to go much further. It is here that I quit the book, after several chapters of literally just watching the dragon grow. The training and interaction with the dragon felt thin, and the chapters were starting to equate in my mind to watching paint dry, so I decided to call it quits.
Despite all the negative, I think there is still some good here. The writing was strong at the start, showing me that Power is capable of good prose. I have heard from others that the pacing and plot pick up significantly after where I dropped out, and those of you who finish it might have a completely different perspective. In addition, while I found the interaction with the dragons boring, the culture that Power describes around them interested me greatly and kept me invested for a while. However, a while was not long enough, and I do not see myself going back to finish this one. Hopefully I will enjoy my next mystery box a little more.