Review: Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott

Monday, July 14, 2008

'Last Dragon' J.M. McDermott

Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott

Wizards of the Coast 2008

Paperback, 390 pages

ISBN: 0786948574 / 9780786948574

Buy online at Amazon (US) or BookRabbit (UK)


"Last Dragon", published as the first of the Wizard of the Coast Discoveries, is like no Fantasy novel I've ever read. It's non-linear, told as a series of letters? reminiscences? campfire tales? that flit about events and times yet slowly and inexorably bring the reader to the book's conclusion.

To sum up the principal narrative, primary narrator Zahn is on the verge of qualifying as a Rider, a warrior who fights on bison-back, when news comes that her putative grandfather has murdered her mother and all her illegitimate siblings, plus the village shaman. Now Zahn cannot be a Rider; she must follow the shaman's path, instead. But first, she and her uncle Seth must hunt down her grandfather, and exact retribution. She and Seth travel to distant Proliux, where they are separated. Only when Zahn falls in with heretic paladin Adel does she make progress towards her goal. But mercenary forces threaten Zahn's homeland, and perhaps only she and Adel can save it.

Yet when we first meet Zahn, she is an old woman, looking back on her life and grieving for her lost lover, Esumi, and her murdered child. History, it seems, has repeated itself.

It's a sad tale, littered with betrayals, and at the same time uncompromising. No convenient explanations are offered for what sometimes seems inexplicable--what was Adel's motive, after all? Perhaps Zahn and her quest take the place of the lost dragon to whom Adel previously gave her allegiance, but if that's so, the novel isn't going to give up the information easily. This is a book that demands to be read, pondered, and re-read, if it's to be understood by the reader.

One barrier, for me, to engaging with the narrative was that when it changes time and/or place, it makes no overt attempt to clue the reader in. Given the book's told in a lot of short snippets, some only a couple of pages long, some less than a page, this means the reader is constantly jarred by the need to work out where they are and what's going on. This choppiness leads to disengagement, and also means that important information at the beginnings of scenes is lost in the struggle. Further, when the book changes narrators, it doesn't change voice. Towards the middle, it's hard to know if it's Zahn talking to us, or Fest, a mercenary who joins her crew. The overall effect is a bit like trying to understand a radio play when someone--without any warning--keeps switching the channels.

This book will reward the reader who seeks not immersion in the fictive dream, but the challenge of putting together a disjointed narrative into a text that has meaning for them.

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posted by Debbie

11 comments; 8 subscribers

Monday, July 14, 2008 / 03:45:07
J.M. McDermott's poem "Lacerta - Named by Johannes Hevelius" will appear in Issue Three of GUD Magazine.
Monday, July 14, 2008 / 03:48:25
You're the Last Person on Earth, but you're allowed to share your solitude with one creature from mythology--any mythology. To win the review copy of "Last Dragon", tell us in comments who--or what--it's going to be :).

Contest open to UK/EU only and closes July 21st (midnight pacific time).
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 / 06:38:22
norse mythology..
loki.. odin's brother and god of trickery. handsome and clever, he can change shape to become any animal he chooses. But he's seriously evil too- and out to stir up all kinds of mischief
Thursday, July 17, 2008 / 09:55:35
I will be sweetening the pot, so to speak.

The winner will also get an official LAST DRAGON button, from me.

Best of luck, everyone!
Saturday, July 19, 2008 / 23:34:55
It would be Typhoeus the fire breathing dragon who happens to have a hundred heads. Typhoeus would be able to privide fire for heating and cooking which is great since inflation has sent those prices through the roof. Also the hundred heads would be great for conversation, as long as nobody brings up religion or politics as those subjects tend to make people really tetchy. You dont want tetchy with a fire breathing dragon!!
Sunday, July 20, 2008 / 01:58:13
I'd have Frodo Baggins (then Samwise would be sure to come along too). Those little hobbits are fond of their home comforts, so would ensure I was comfortable as well. They'd also ensure that I always had someone interesting to talk to.
Sunday, July 20, 2008 / 02:23:15
Definitely the chimera, described by Homer as 'a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.' The lion head will keep me safe from whatever nasties pop up in the post-apocalyptic environment, fire breathing makes for easy food preparation and warmth, the squidgy goat centre should provide excellent milk and thus lovely cheese (making for fantastic starters, even though mankind has ended) and the snake based rear will make a useful scarf in the winter and double as a rubber ring when we go swimming together. What more could I want?
Sunday, July 20, 2008 / 07:29:29
It could get a bit lonely, so I would opt for a hunk and pick Hercules. He would keep me safe from wild animals and also the odd human mutant (there's always a couple) who turns up.

Of course, we would have to keep an eye out for Hera, in case she is still hanging about, but I'll deal with her. Oh, and think of all the big hunky cuddles when it gets cold.

Think I'm getting a bit carried away here, but hey, it's my fantasy, and I don't think I should share any more of this adventure, because he's mine. So hands off.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 / 14:59:33
What a lot of great responses! I'm glad it's up to chance to decide the winner, who is...Shabbs! Congrats!
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 03:16:23
Congratulations to JM McDermott! "Last Dragon" was named by Locus in their recommended reading list for 2008!

Read the full list here:….html
Monday, June 22, 2009 / 14:35:55
Now also available via fictionwise:…-Dragon/JM-McDermott/

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