Novels of Dragons
January 24, 2013 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend to me books prominently featuring dragons that will meet my rather high (and specific) standards. Lots of details to calibrate your suggestions inside.

I have always loved the fantasy genre, and I have also always loved dragons, but seldom have the twain met--dragons, it seems to me, are pretty low hanging fruit, and people who like dragons will read not very good books as long as they have dragons in them. Some authors have based their entire careers around this. I also find it harder, as I have gotten older and found myself with less and less free time, to find novels that I find fun or interesting enough to devote the time investment required to read them. After all, I could be spending time with my fiance, playing a video game, or reading Metafilter instead.

Further, I like only certain depictions of dragons. I don't like dragons that are dumb beasts, and I don't like dragons that don't feel very much like, you know, Dragons with a capital D. I want big, powerful, smart, fire-breathing monsters. Many books I've tried that feature dragons basically feature human minds with the bodies of dragon. Smaug is basically the best dragon villain that I have encountered in literature. Other than Smaug, my favorite version/depiction of dragons are those in the Shadowrun roleplaying game setting--smart, devious, dangerous creatures with both personality and mystery, though note I've never managed to get through a Shadowrun novel.

I don't need dragons to necessarily be the protagonists, but they do need to feature fairly prominently. I like fantasy set on Earth, particularly modern Earth, more than I like fantasy set on other worlds, but other worlds are fine if the book is good. I tend to favor more modern writing, but I certainly won't turn down older books, as long as they're not too dry or difficult to read. To help calibrate your suggestions, here are some books I do and do not like.

-The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher: one of my very favorite series of novels, maybe my very favorite simply based on the fact that there is more of it than any of the others. This is the ideal thing I'm looking for, action packed, fun, not too heavy, and reasonably well written.
-The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede: basically my favorite series of novels featuring dragons. The dragons are a little on the human side, personality wise, but they still feel enough like dragons to be satisfying to read about.
-The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: I like a lot of King's stuff, though I attempted to reread a few things that I loved the first time through recently (Needful Things and It) and found myself wishing someone would get the man an editor who would stand up to him and actually cut some shit. And that's his older books. I have not read the most recent Dark Tower, but I have read the rest of the series three times and enjoyed them.
-The Kingkiller Chronicles (?) by Patrick Rothfuss: fuck this dude can write. Don't love his dragons, though. Seriously, there's crazy weird fae and murderous demon dudes, but dragons are just big dumb lizards?
-Early Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels, by Laurell K Hamilton: I really enjoyed the first... six? Before they started getting too terribly sex heavy and she started losing control of her story lines. She writes great action scenes. I found the Dresden Files searching for a replacement for this. I have yet to find other "urban fantasy" that I like as much as those two.
-Harry Potter: Potter is great. Don't dig the beast type dragons, though.
-Neil Gaiman: I love everything by Neil Gaiman.

At One Point I Liked:
-The Dragonlance Chronicles and The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: I loved both these series when I was a teenager (partially because of the dragons) when I was a teenager. I have tried to reread them both in the past five years or so and just lost interest early on.
-The Wheel of Time by Jordan et al: Again, when I was a teenager, and had approximately the same maturity level as the male protagonists, I really dug this series. I tried to reread the first book two or three years ago, and it was a real bummer. The writing was not what I remembered, and the gender dynamics were just the pits.
-The Word and the Void trilogy, by Terry Brooks: Pretty good. A little darker, but good modern earth fantasy with some pretty good action. I used to really love them, but have not revisited them recently.

Fine, don't love them:
-Anything by Terry Pratchett: He's a very good writer. He does not write books I love to read, though Thief of Time is an exception to that; I remember really loving that one, though I have not revisited it. I have not read more of his books than I have read; I think I got through about ten before I decided I had gotten it. Note: Please do not answer if your goal is to get me to reconsider Pratchett. Though I will certainly consider any Pratchett novels prominently featuring dragons that I may have missed.
-Temeraire, by Naomi Novak: I enjoyed the first... two(?) of these, and then simply didn't get around to reading anymore. So I guess I didn't love them. They are fun and I will probably get around to the rest of them eventually, but I'm not a huge fan of novels where the humans have the dominant position in the human-dragon relationship dynamic. See also that one series by Harry Turtledove, which I read all of for some reason, even though the dragons were dumb beasts and it was basically exactly the same as all his other books except he replaced the rifles with magic sticks.
-The Hobbit: Pretty easy read, pretty fun, pretty old fashioned. And Smaug is totally great. Just the epitome of evil dragon.

Do Not Like:
-Pern: those aren't dragons, they're genetically engineered teleporting fire-breathing lizards, and also there's even more sex than Anita Blake. No thanks.
-A Song of Fire and Ice: Just a total bummer. Did nothing but make me sad, until I gave up a third of the way through the first book. I'll probably give the show a shot at some point when it's easy to access.
-Earthsea: Just... very dry and slow. I tried real hard, and just gave up after a while.
-Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton: I think I read some of each when I was a teenager, and probably finished but did not love their books even then.
-Everything else by Terry Brooks: He just had to go and connect his one good series, The Word and the Void, to fucking Shannara. Good grief.
-The Lord of the Rings: It took me six months to read the Two Towers because it was real, real boring, and then I got to the literally hundreds of pages of Hobbits walking through a wasteland in Return of the King. Man oh man.
-China Meiville: He's like the shitty, pretentious Neil Gaiman.

Hopefully that is enough to give you something to go on. Thank you very much in advance, sorry this is so long just for book recommendations.
posted by Caduceus to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. The centerpoint of the novel are the psychological and cultural differences between human and dragonkind. I should note that most of the dragons look human, though, because they're shape shifters. But there are two dragon races and they're awesome awesome yummy nom nom nom. The writing is complex and rich, and it's written by a smart, feminist lady. It's YA, but the romance is minimal and there's no sexytimes. Mostly just dragons.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:06 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you tried The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley?
posted by dilettante at 6:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, hey, I was just going to say Seraphina! Yup. Seraphina.
posted by Jeanne at 6:08 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton!
posted by Lemmy Caution at 6:10 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stephen Deas, The Adamantine Palace--volume one of a fast-paced trilogy featuring scheming nobles and oodles of dragons. Some of the ways in which it meets your criteria are spoilers, but it gets there pretty quickly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:13 PM on January 24, 2013

The Farthest Shore features two dragons, who are definitely not repainted humans.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on January 24, 2013

Robin Hobb's trilogies Far seer, Live Ship Traders, Tawny Man, and Rain Wilds are all well-written fantasy with dragons as a central focus. They are intelligent but inhuman. Actual dragons are not really present in the Farseer trilogy, but the four form a sequence.
posted by eruonna at 6:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Possibly Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, potentially early books in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels. More like Eragon.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:31 PM on January 24, 2013

Hobb's Rain Wilds set - it'll be four books - is actually very focused around dragons, and more dragon-y than usual dragons.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:32 PM on January 24, 2013

Further to Chocolate Pickle: don't start the Earthsea books with A Wizard Of Earthsea. Start with The Farthest Shore, skip or skim Tehanu, then read Tales From Earthsea (especially the final story, Dragonfly) and The Other Wind. That's where the good dragonage is.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:33 PM on January 24, 2013

Response by poster: Further to Chocolate Pickle: don't start the Earthsea books with A Wizard Of Earthsea. Start with The Farthest Shore, skip or skim Tehanu, then read Tales From Earthsea (especially the final story, Dragonfly) and The Other Wind. That's where the good dragonage is.

Okay, I'll buy that for a nickle. I did indeed try to read Wizard of Earthsea, as long as I'm not missing essential plot points or something I'm okay jumping to later books. I'll give that a shot.

These all sound like they have potential so far, thank you!

(Except for Eragon, I should have put that on my do not like list. Thank you for the suggestion, though.)
posted by Caduceus at 6:36 PM on January 24, 2013

It might not be what you're looking for, but I'll post anyway because I enjoyed them. The Deltora Quest series are undoubtedly kids books, but hey, you've listed Discworld and Harry Potter as things you've read, so they're worth a go. The 3rd series focuses heavily on dragons. I enjoyed reading them with my son immensely. The dragons are protectors of the realm, and all have unique powers and personalities - they are noble, intelligent and interesting.
posted by Jimbob at 6:37 PM on January 24, 2013

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly
posted by Boogiechild at 6:55 PM on January 24, 2013

Seconding Hambly's Dragonsbane (which also has a couple of sequels which I have not read).
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:57 PM on January 24, 2013

These might end up being something you'd have liked more when you were younger - admittedly I was reading them around the same time I was getting my Dragonlance on - but have you tried any of Richard A. Knaak's Dragonrealm books? The dragons in them are the rulers of the various realms (in case the series title is a bit opaque there), so they're definitely meant to be more intelligent and humanish; Firedrake is the first, and was my favorite.

Again, I can't really vouch for how well he'll read as an adult, but if you do end up liking Knaak and are willing to revisit Krynn one more time, I remember enjoying his dragon-heavy Legend of Huma far more than most of the later Dragonlance books as well.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:58 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not a perfect book, but you might still give Hidden Things a try. This review is pretty much on target. The dragon is only in part of the book, but it's one of the better characters.
posted by gudrun at 6:59 PM on January 24, 2013

I know that Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey are on your Do Not Like list, but have you read the Elvenbane trilogy they wrote together? I'm generally not a huge fan of their work, but I liked those (largely because, well, dragons).
posted by tan_coul at 7:02 PM on January 24, 2013

Gordon R. Dickson: "The Dragon and the George". There's a whole series, but my favorite is still this one, the first.
posted by easily confused at 7:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Obsidian Chronicles are pretty good, I thought.
posted by jamjam at 7:09 PM on January 24, 2013

I actively avoid books about dragons (b/c as you noted, many are terrible) and LOVED Seraphina and Tooth and Claw. GREAT characters and storytelling.
posted by leesh at 7:12 PM on January 24, 2013

I recommend Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George -- the dragons are definitely intelligent (possibly bordering on too human) and interesting. I loved this book and yet wasn't interested enough to finish the sequel; YMMV. The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff you may enjoy or may be annoyed by (dragons can take human form, but are pretty different from humans) but it's good urban fantasy (I'd also recommend the sequel: The Wild Ways). The Dark Lord of Derkholm (and the just as good sequel Year of the Griffon) by Diana Wynne Jones are enigmatic teachers. Slightly less warmly recommended are the Pure Dead Magic books by Debi Gliori. They are children's fantasy, and fun, but not really transcending the genre. Though the cranky, flighty dragon is an amusing character.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:17 PM on January 24, 2013

I picked up His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik completely at random from the library and really enjoyed it. It takes placed on earth but during the Napoleonic wars where dragons are used as a standard part of military strategy. The first book follows the story of an English soldier and his dragon should give it a try. This question has inspired me to go get the next two books in the series.
posted by victoriab at 8:03 PM on January 24, 2013

Maybe not your style or quite what you're looking for, but the Guardians of the Flame series (by Joel Rosenberg) is one of my favourite series of books. (Up until around book 7 or so.) While the series is mostly about people, dragons do show up and at least one has a fairly prominent role as the series goes on.

Books 1 and 2 are The Sleeping Dragon and The Sword and the Chain and I think you might enjoy their dragon content.
posted by juliebug at 8:38 PM on January 24, 2013

I'm not sure whether or not to recommend this, but as someone who really enjoys dragons and dragonish behaviour interspersed with human activities, I feel I must:

Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series.
posted by batmonkey at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a serious guilty pleasure thing for Mercedes Lackey and I've read the first Elvenbane book twice and I still thought it was pretty much not that good. (Cool dragons though!)

It's been a while, but I really liked Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon Trilogy [she's written a fourth book, which I haven't read, in the last decade.] They are young adult books, and the dragons are not really characters in the way that they are in the (amazing!) Wrede books, but they're interesting.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:47 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind some breezily written silliness, you might enjoy Dragons Wild by Robert Aspirin. They are by no means Literature, but I picked one up in a hotel lobby while on vacation and rather enjoyed it. They also have the modern fantasy thing going for it that Dresden Files does.
posted by empath at 12:07 AM on January 25, 2013

Might try Melanie Rawn's series, The Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies.
posted by Atreides at 6:01 AM on January 25, 2013

The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick, features a truly memorably evil dragon (although in the interest of full disclosure, the dragon in question is mechanical) and is in general one of the best fantasy novels ever. That said (and I mean this with love) your taste in these novels is... not my own, so I recommend it with hesitation. Still, though... great, great dragon villain.

Also, David Anthony Durham's Acacia series features a cool dragon, although it doesn't show up until... maybe the second book, if I'm remembering correctly? Fun series, though, and an easy read.
posted by selfnoise at 6:22 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

While not featuring prominently, the dragons in Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen series would seem to fit your criteria nicely. Besides, they are truly excellent books in their own right.
posted by bouvin at 6:57 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to second The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. As soon as I read your question I thought of that book, and I almost wrote an askmefi about it, as I couldn't remember the name, and it was driving me nuts. But yeah, the first book is all about dragons and I remember quite enjoying it.
posted by Canageek at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2013

I have to second bouvin on the Malazan books. These books are EPIC. 100's of thousands of years of history, ancient races, dragon shape shifters, intricate magic systems and some very, VERY powerful characters.
posted by OuttaHere at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2013

Also, wtf, you gave up on the Game of Thrones books 1/3 of the way into the first book? I think you are being a little TOO picky, I mean you haven't even gotten to any good meat and or dragons yet....
posted by OuttaHere at 7:45 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Spoiler for Game of Thrones, but if one is reading for dragons, especially for the ones as described, then the entire series will disappoint. At this point, they're barely mentioned, and only in the most recent book (or possibly the one before that) has one dragon become even slightly interesting beyond being a baby dragon. Babies aren't very interesting (as a study in The Onion presented Babies are Stupid), and baby dragons seem to follow that trend. Sure, it might have some build up to an awesome 7th or 8th book, but if one is reading for dragons, the ratio of dragon to non-dragon is essentially zero.
posted by nobeagle at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2013

Robin McKinley also has a novel called "Dragonhaven," about a dragon preserve and the teenager who discovers and nurtures a baby dragon there. Very naturalistic for a fantasy.
posted by alicat at 4:37 PM on January 25, 2013

Yay, dragons!

I came here to recommend Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood duology by Patricia Briggs. (She writes urban fantasy now, and is honestly, not as original/fun to read anymore.) There are mythical dragons (who can take human shape), but the characters are human.
posted by ethidda at 11:17 PM on January 27, 2013

Also, the Drakon series by Shana Abe and Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison, but these books have explicit adult sexual content.
posted by ethidda at 11:20 PM on January 27, 2013

Check out E. E. Knight's Age of Fire series - it's a very well-written series from the point of view of the dragon(s), one per book. I like my dragons much like you do, and absolutely love this series.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:29 PM on January 28, 2013

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