Okay. All books by Robin McKinley are on my “instant buy in hardcover” list. But I have to say that, though I’m pleased that her last few books have been different and interesting, I’ve been disappointed by their increasing… well, worldliness. I used to go to Robin McKinley to walk in strange lands, and now she writes fantasy set in modern America with protagonists who have contemporary attitudes.
(Yeah, I know she lives in England now and home has become strange. And I know the manor house has gone and the health problems have manifested and so on. But…. I miss that sense of peace. I don’t particularly like the bitterness. And I could do without the stereotypical “modern fantasy must-haves”. Bah.)
However, if Dragonhaven weren’t by Robin McKinley, I think I’d be quite interested and intrigued by this new tale. A boy is raising a dragon — not the first time it’s happened in fantasy — but McKinley knows the messy and enthralling details of raising baby critters, and then kicks it up a notch with disgusting and fascinating fantastic/cryptozoologic details. Over a hundred pages of detailing the process ensue, but it never gets boring. She melds this with an sf/work story of a national park scrabbling for funding and a public relations nightmare in the making, all of which works pretty well, before moving into the endgame of what it’s all leading up to. There’s also a huge amount of humor, which I much appreciated.
Unfortunately, the novel doesn’t end there. As is apparently normal for McKinley’s creative process (and Tolkien’s, and many another writer’s), the story goes on. Back in the day, this sort of thing would get edited out. But nooooo. And yes, there is another climax which we reach — but we go through a mass of irrelevant detail, character moments that don’t suit the characters, and general crappitude.
Did we really need to know that the reason the Cranky Guy was cranky was that he was A Nerd Who’d Never Gotten Properly Laid, and Didn’t Realize He Was Gay? (Did I, in fact, ever imagine that McKinley would come up with anything so offensive to everyone alive, and that such a thing would be marketed as YA?) Would any young married guy, no matter how mind-altered, want us to know all about the high points of his honeymoon, especially in terms more appropriate to a female romance novel protagonist? Did we have to have totally gratuitous marrying off of the in-laws to each other? And could the portrayal of the state’s National Guard units (apparently all male and from some bunker where they are stored in cryofreezers, as opposed to being a walk through “Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood”) have been more stupid, pointless, and contradictory — despite being written by a former military brat who shows a nice flair for the Clancy-esque at the exact same time???
Could my eyes roll any further?
(Believe me when I say that I never thought “McKinley” and “crappitude” would ever conjoin in a review of mine. This pains me to write.)
However, there is a reasonably satisfying ending in store, so it’s probably worth reading from the library and buying in paperback. Just skim past the off-kilter bits.