The Dragon at War by Gordon R Dickson

a review by TC, in the genre(s) Fantasy. Book published by Tor Books in 1992

The Dragon at War is a fantasy novel by the author Gordon R Dickson.

Over a century ago, the dragon Gleingul fought and slew a sea serpent in single combat. A genuine David and Goliath moment as sea serpents are more than twice as large as dragons. Ever since, there has been great animosity between these two species. Now something has brought it to the brink as the sea serpents have allied themselves with the French in a plot to invade England so they can seek out and kill all the dragons. In the meantime Carolinus, Jim’s master in magic, has become seriously ill and is recovering at Malencontri. He’s been the victim of an attack by an unknown and powerful magician. So it’s up to Jim to discover the identity of the mastermind behind this latest plot. During his mission, Jim will discover that he has been targeted by the sea serpents who see him as the key to the English dragons.

This news means that soon his castle Malencontri will be under siege as the first wave of the invasion begins. Jim must deal with conflicting obligations, a threat from a fellow magician, as well as figuring out a way to prevent the impending war that is brewing between the dragons and the sea serpents. A war that has the dragons at a great disadvantage for they are greatly outnumbered by the sea serpents and a war that Jim will be obligated to fight in as a dragon. Overview

Mild Spoilers Ahead

On his way home from the borderlands, Jim befriends another Natural, this time it’s the Sea Devil Rrrnlf who is searching for something that was stolen from him. Upon arriving at Malencontri Jim discovers an urgent message awaiting him that Carolinus is in dire straights and that he must go to him at once. Jim and Angie discover Carolinus in a difficult situation and manage to rescue him only by the timely arrival of Sir John and Sir Giles. Later that day when all have returned safely to Malencontri, Jim learns from his friends that the French are in preparations to invade England and have forged an alliance with an unknown powerful ally. Sir John wishes to send Jim and his companions on a mission to France to learn what they can about the invasion.

As for Carolinus, he was attacked by an unknown magician and almost died because of it. Thanks to the swift intervention of Jim and Angie, Carolinus is now recovering at Malencontri. Carolinus is able to identify the Sea Serpents as the unknown French ally and that this is behavior beyond their nature. Carolinus is convinced an unknown powerful magician is at work as only a skilled magician is capable of interfering with the magic of others as well as attempting the attack on him. He sees the unmasking of this mastermind as the more immediate task as this unknown magician is the key to the invasion. So he orders Jim to find the identity of his unknown attacker.

Against Angie’s wishes, Jim and his companions set forth on their mission. First with the help of his new friend, to learn more about the sea serpents, then on to France to learn what they can there about the French invasion. While in France, Secoh the mere dragon arrives just in time to help Jim out of a difficult position and joins the team on their quest. It seems Jim had overlooked something vitally important about his going to France that has gotten him into trouble. Completing their mission and getting back to England proves equally challenging as Jim and his companions deal with several threats and problems along the way. As a result one of his friends receives serious injuries that will require the use of magic to save him. Now it’s up to Jim to figure out how to use magic to accomplish a basic life saving technique.

The quest itself proved successful as the companions learned that the invasion is only days away and that the sea serpents have set their sights on Malencontri and the Dragon Knight himself. Jim now knows that a war is brewing that will pit the dragons against the sea serpents. Unless the war can be averted, Jim realizes that he himself will most likely be in his dragon body fighting the serpents in the very near future. To that end, Jim finds himself elevated to a position of authority arranging attack plans with the French and English dragons. As well as coordinating attack plans with Sir John who will be levying and positioning the English army as well. In addition, Jim must deal with a new threat from a fellow magician who has raised charges against him with the Accounting Office. It’s an exciting action packed adventure that will end in a showdown at Malencontri.

Analysis

Additional Spoilers Ahead

Just a word of caution, this novel is a major work in the “Dragon Knight” series. Several plot items are discussed and one might want to stop here if you wish to discover these for yourself.

Having been warned; “The Dragon at War” is Gordon R. Dickson’s 4th novel in the Dragon Knight series, a rather unique medieval time slip adventure series. This addition to the series is an exciting action packed story that reveals more about the mysterious alternate reality/parallel universe that Jim and Angie find themselves in. We also witness Jim beginning to struggle with competing obligations from his rather unique situation.

Right off, Jim’s various obligations are clashing with each other, especially his being a feudal lord and apprentice in magic. As Knight in service to the King. We have Sir John Chandos who wishes to send Jim and his companions on a covert mission to learn what they can about the French Invasion. Sir John extends Jim a courtesy by asking him if he’ll undertake the mission for he carries a royal order commanding Jim to go. As Apprentice in Magic. We have Carolinus who wishes to send Jim and his companions on a mission to unmask the identity of this powerful and yet unknown magician. Carolinus knows this is the key and that time is of the essence. As Husband. We have Angie who is struggling to adapt to this primitive society and is frustrated and angered that Jim is always leaving her alone to worry as he takes on these dangerous assignments. Secondly, Angie is left alone to deal with the barony as well as to take on the brunt of the culture clashes. As a result Jim is often the target of her angst. As a dragon. Jim discovers that human or not, the dragons expect him to abide by their customs. This novel also expands and explains a number of points within the magical realm that Jim finds himself in. We have Jim’s advancement in magic, he’s progressed to using complex spells and learned how to:

Construct a multipurpose vehicle. Type blood and (with assistance) magically give a transfusion.

The difference between sorcerers and magicians.

Magicians are workers of true magic and use magic for creative as well as defensive purposes. Sorcerers are workers of counter-magic. Evil people who use magic for offensive purposes only.

The Society of Magicians.

Carolinus has pulled rank in order to get Jim some extra perks, which do not set well with his associates. A highly skilled magician can figure out the magic of another magician, much the same way a person who knows half dozen languages can quickly learn another. Carolinus defends himself from a young challenger in a ritualistic dual.

A blessing from any religious order can prevent the creation of new magic for 24 hours. In this reality, dragons and wolves are intelligent/sentient creatures and in this novel we learn a little bit more about the world of dragons.
The story of Gleingul was first told back in “The Dragon and The George” by Gorbash’s grand uncle Smrgol to Jim (who was in trapped in Gorbash’s body) to build his confidence just prior to Jim’s one on one fight with the ogre. This is a story that is well known to dragons; the sea serpents on the other hand, feign ignorance. The French and English dragons have low opinions of each other, however, the French dragons do appear better organized then the English dragons. Even though they don’t live in large communities like the English dragons, a few of them have managed to form business agreements with the French Georges. They also appear to have developed advanced formation flying and communication skills.

Carolinus instructs Secoh to introduce Jim as an ambassador to the French dragons. Jim seizes on this opportunity to pass himself off as the ambassador for the English dragons. However, Jim overlooks the deeper meaning of the usage, as Carolinus no doubt sees Jim as a real ambassador from a different time and place. To that end Jim (and Angie) are already and unknowing working as ambassadors on many levels. Even though Jim spends 98% of his time in human form, he discovers (to his satisfaction) that he has been accepted as a dragon by the dragons of this realm. As the plot unfolds, Jim soon finds himself in a position of authority with both the English and French dragons.
Dragons are sticklers about their customs. Unlike the earlier novels, this novel has all its major characters deeply involved in the plot and contributing in major ways. Dickson continues his tongue in cheek style mixing lighthearted moments among the serious ones that, so far, have worked well in this series. In all, this novel is a very entertaining action packed read and a strong addition to the Dragon Knight series.

One more thing to make note of from a series perspective: Pay attention to the interference to things magical, as well as Carolinus, for something he does may be of significance.

Best line: “It’s a George thing” – Jim, on failing to explain a point on social customs to Secoh.

Written on Monday 20th August 2001 by .

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The Dragon at War, a novel by Gordon R Dickson

Book Details

  • The Dragon at War
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN:
  • Published:
  • Pages: 375
  • Format reviewed: Paperback
  • Review date: August, 2001
  • Language: English
  • Age Range: N/A