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Mistress of Dragons

Margaret Weis


US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-765-30468-6

Publication Date: 05-13-2003

383 Pages; $25.95

Date Reviewed: 05-19-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Fantasy, Science Fiction

Princesses in fairy tales usually get a pretty sweet deal. Sit in the tower, chat up the monster, dash off with the prince to a life lived happily ever after. Great work if you can get it. Take those same ingredients, put them in the BassMaster Blender, set to puree and you've got a decent idea of what Margaret Weis is up to in 'Mistress of Dragons'. In her first solo novel, little is what it seems and nothing remains as it was once she's done putting dragons, princesses, kings and every other fairy tale cliché through the wringer. If you think you're in for a nice little fantasy about hot babes and hotter breath, you won't be disappointed - at first. But Weis is swift to parody her own soft inner core, and once she starts your preconceptions will continue to unravel for the rest of the novel. It's a fast, easy read that's more fun for more reasons than readers will at first be given to suspect.

As the novel opens, Melisande is blonde, gorgeous, a little soft around the edges and next in line to be the Mistress of Dragons for the Kingdom of Seth. There's your first road sign. This is hardly a "king"-dom, as it's being run by a bunch of fierce Amazon warriors (one of whom, Bellonda, is Melisande's lover) and a batch of priestesses who wield powerful magic to combat the pesky dragons that like to barbeque the people and palaces of Seth. Men are barely in evidence and only as breeding stock. Seth seems to have missed the age-old lessons of the feminist revolution as well; the women the men breed with are referred to as "cows". Still, it seems like a pretty cozy situation for Melisande, tending to the aged Mistress and sadly preparing to take her place.

Ramsgate-Upon-the Aston is a much more pragmatic place. There is commerce, wealth, poverty, filthy streets and child thieves -- all the usual amenities of pre-industrial, post mediaeval societies. King Edward presides over it with an even hand, at least until the dragon starts to plague him and his economy unravels. Unable to avail himself of the economic stimulation offered by Tomahawk missiles, Edward is forced to heed the advice of Dragonas, a mysterious outsider who calls himself a dragon hunter. Dragonas offers to lead Edward to the city of Seth, where he will be able to implore for help from the Mistress of Dragons, who will use powerful magic to drive away the dragon. Edward's reaction is, charmingly, the same as the reader's - magic is fairy tale fodder, and Edward is a scientific sort. But so are dragons, points out Dragonas. And they're off on the quest.

Weis writes light, addictive prose that reads far faster then any one reader will suspect. Sit down for a second and you've gobbled up a hundred pages. She takes the risk of having the reader think that she's serious about the fairy tale aspects of her own creation and reaps the rewards when she reveals that she's inverting roles at a brisk and entertaining pace. Dragons are not simply flying lizards here. They're an intelligent, ancient race that coexists with humanity according to rules that are made to be broken. As is often the case, the dragons here tend to shine. Their characters are naturally strong. But Weis gives her humans a good deal of credit and they keep up with the dragons so that no matter whose story pops up the next, the reader will find a reason to smile. Gentle self-mocking humor gives way to a harder steel skeleton underneath. Fairy tale or not, Weis is creating characters that the reader is meant to care about. She's a good enough writer to have her way.

Some readers may find 'Mistress of Dragons' a bit on the embarrassing side, what with the not-so-subliminal (though tastefully concealed behind closed doors) sex, the princesses, the kings, all the frilly accoutrements so easily made fun of. Weis does that for the reader, however, with characters who question their own circumstances and a clever plot that finds rival factions of dragons and humans maneuvering and manipulating one another in scam after scam. Underneath it all are some seriously sinister plans that aim for the long run. This is the first novel in a series that will play out over human lifetimes. Weis brings it to a nice conclusion - well, not nice in the sense of happily-ever-after, mind you but nice in that the readers will enjoy the shocks she has in store for them along with the perfect balance of closure and continuation.

'Mistress of Dragons' offers readers a prime chance to have their cake and eat it too. You get the deep-cheese feel of very easy-reading fantasy served up with a main dish sly satire and slick plotting. Weis aims to satisfy a wide variety of tastes and succeeds rather better than anyone might have a right to expect. I was a bit chagrined as I started reading 'Mistress of Dragons' but I quickly got over it. Weis is an author whose skill will overcome most readers' reservations, shortly before she presses the puree button.