I wasn’t hunting dragons, but I stumbled upon this hoard just the same. My sister took me to her favorite bookshop while I visited her, and The Dragon Universe stood on an endcap and drew my eye. I love Dragons, and I love looking at artist depictions of the beasts. “Buy this for me for Christmas,” I commanded my sister. We exchange books every year, so she added this to the stack. One month later, I decided to pick it up and give the tome a read. Like the dragons contained within, The Dragon Universe is fickle. I loved one thing about it and dislike practically everything else. But that one thing is quite important in a novelty coffee table book about dragons.
The Dragon Universe is divided into sections. Each of which has short snippets detailing a dragon-adjacent culture. One comprises mostly dwarves. Another focuses on elves, while yet another explores a sea-faring world in which dragons rule the seas and the skies.
Those prose sections were a slog. I had the urge to skip every single one. The prose is nothing to write home about. It’s functional, and it leans heavily into exposition territory. The storytelling just doesn’t have any oomph, and there’s not enough page space dedicated to the prose to make it worthwhile. Even in the most interesting sections, the stories were so fractured that it became near-impossible to intuit what these cultures were like. All tell, no show.
Dragon pictures. Loads of them. Amazing depictions of the creatures by some incredibly talented artists. Almost every image in the book is remarkable, and the artists clearly had a blast creating these images. I lingered on certain pages for minutes at a time, craving the storytelling details the images contained and which were woefully lacking from the prose. It made up for a large chunk of my disappointment with the book’s stories.
That said, there are a few pictures in The Dragon Universe that look uninspired. It’s easy, of course, to flip past these and enjoy the next portrait. But when I pick up an art-heavy book, I expect even the duds to be of a high caliber.
Should you, a dragon fan, stumble upon a copy of The Dragon Universe in the wild, give it a look. Flip through the drawings and soak in the fire-breathing goodness. Buy it if it strikes your fancy as a display book. If you’re tepid on the goodies within, I’m here to tell you just put it down and explore the next dragon book that crosses your path.