Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Dog and Dragon" by Dave Freer

(cover from

Dog and Dragon (2012) by Dave Freer is the sequel to his 2009 fantasy, Dragon's Ring, which really impressed me.

As I said then, I knew that Freer could write appealing characters, but the book surprised me by being a lot better than I expected. This book, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected, and that's both good and bad.

The main characters are the same - with the possible exception of the dog, which gets a lot more attention here - and they're still appealing. The book begins right where Dragon's Ring left off, and you know exactly what to expect.

But that's kind of the downside, too, because you know exactly what to expect from the book, right from the start. The first book surprised me because it was better than I expected. But one thing this one will never do is surprise you.

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. It's a fast, easy read, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters again. If you liked the first book, you'll probably like this one. But I really hope he's not going to write a series of these. Freer can do better than this.

As I said, the main characters are still appealing, and so are the minor characters. Dave Freer has a real knack for writing characters we care about. But this is really a generic fantasy, even more than the first book (which had some features I particularly liked).

You could write the plot for this one in your sleep, and I kind of hate to see Freer waste his talent that way. I'm not going to tell you what that plot is, because that will give away the ending of the first book, and I hate to write spoilers. But let me just say that, if you've read the first book, you'll know exactly where this one goes.

Of course, sequels generally have the problem that readers already know a great deal about the characters and their world, so sequels are rarely as good as the initial book. It takes a really good author to overcome that - someone like Lois McMaster Bujold, for example.

She does it by finding new things to tell us about her characters and her world, and also by introducing additional characters - important characters - as the series continues, characters who also develop as she finds new things to tell us about them, too.

In Dog and Dragon, the world is actually new, but it's very generic and quite a bit like the old one. The main characters are the same, and Freer doesn't find anything new to tell us. They're still appealing, but we already got to know them in the first book.

The minor characters are appealing, too, but most of them are very minor.  And as in the first book, there's no way to become attached to most of them, or to any particular setting, either. For the most part, Freer's primary characters move through their worlds without becoming attached to anything but each other.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I enjoyed this book. I sat down and read it in a single day. And if you enjoyed the first book, too, you'll probably enjoy this one. But it's like cotton candy - not much substance to it. So it's also a bit disappointing.

As I said about Dragon's Ring, I'd like to see Freer turn to science fiction for his next book. Fantasy tends to be pretty light-weight anyway, and I'd like to see his characters set into a world with more substance.

At the very least, I'd like to see his characters develop ties, instead of moving through their lives like characters from a television series, encountering new people and new problems every week without becoming attached to any of them.

Yes, Freer can write appealing characters, but does he have anything important to tell us about the human condition? Does he have anything important to tell us about... anything much? Entertainment is great, but I'm not a huge fan of cotton candy. How about some meat?

And Dragon's Ring was really quite impressive. He showed a lot of promise there, even more than in A Mankind Witch, which I also enjoyed. (Sorry, no review of that one.) There were small parts of Dragon's Ring which really added to the experience.

So I have a lot of hope for Dave Freer. I don't want him to turn into another Piers Anthony (as lucrative as that might be for him). I think he can do better than that, and better than this.

Dog and Dragon was fun enough for an idle afternoon, and I hope he makes some money from it. But I also hope he thinks about what he's doing next time. I hope he challenges himself. He knows how to write appealing characters, and that's very important to me. But that needs to be only the start of writing good fiction.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. "Dragon's Ring" was excellent, but this one is only very good. And as I was hoping for excellence -- especially as I believe Freer can deliver it, even in a sequel -- this was rather depressing.

WCG said...

Let's hope for better next time. The lure of sequels - easy, lucrative, with a ready-made audience - must be strong. But he can do better, and should.

Thanks for commenting.

Zervziel Ec said...

I sadly started seeing some traits I'd rather not see in his writing.


They gone? Good.

For one Fionn overcomes everything with little or no challenge at all. Queen of Shadow hall? Defeated in 4 pages. Aberienn the mage? He died so quickly I actually missed it. Ambush by the First via the Fire Elementals? Lost half a hand, but don't worry, it'll grow back. There is no real threat to him. The one time someone actually came close to defeating him, the damn dog (who I started out liking in the beginning and ended up hating) stops it.

Meb also has a bad habit of defeating obstacles so easily it makes you wonder why Freer even bothered in the first place.

This is a real shame because her parts were the most interesting at first. She shows real doubt at who she is and doesn't really know her role at first. I liked Neve and the other woman but the Prince and the Magician were so bland and one dimensional, they might as well have nailed signs declaring themselves the designated villains to their heads.

One thing I find maddeningly annoying is the general lack of description in the story which is self-defeating to say the least. With a fantasy world setting you NEED to describe the land to the reader otherwise it just comes across as generic fantasy world number 29,998. Characters are also described very little. Some may say this is to leave it to the reader's imagination and too much detail can choke the story, which is true. However this story has too little. Seriously, the main character is a bloody dragon and yet fails to add those little details of being a dragon that'd really help give the character more life. Seriously, the book doesn't even describe Fionn's dragon form outside of "black dragon", leaving most of that description to the first book! This is a terrible idea as the reader might not have read the first book and thus doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to look like. I kept imagining him a generic black dragon from the old DnD source books which is kind of sad.

WCG said...

Thanks for the comment, Zervziel. It's always interesting to hear another point of view. (Fiction is, after all, inherently subjective.)

I agree with you in some respects, certainly. In my review, I complained that it was generic at least twice. But I don't think I needed more description - and certainly not of dragons!

I already know what dragons are, and frankly, I'm sick to death of them. As I noted in my review of the first book, "Dragon's Ring" did not sound at all appealing. So I really don't see how describing the dragon would help make this fantasy any less generic. (Can you describe a dragon that's different enough from generic dragons to make it interesting?)

For the rest of it,... I suppose I don't take it that seriously. This is light-weight fantasy. It's implausible pretty much by definition. Really, when you accept magic, how can things being easy be a problem for you? :)

I did have my issues with the book. After the first one, this was a disappointment, because I know Freer can do better. And you and I could be expressing the same thoughts, but just in different ways.

As I noted above, the world seemed to be nothing but backdrop for Freer's characters. They just drift through it, without becoming attached to anyone or anything (except themselves). So we don't become attached to it, either.

That might be why the other characters seem so generic and why the obstacles are no big deal. The whole thing is as artificial as a stage backdrop, just a temporary setting for his main characters. I still thought it was entertaining enough, for light-weight fantasy, but I wouldn't want to read another one like this.

Thanks again for your interesting comment.