The Dragon Knight by Gordon R Dickson

a review by TC, in the genre(s) Fantasy. Book published by Tor Books in 1990

The Dragon Knight is the sequel to the Dragon and the George, by Gordon R Dickson.

Fans of the Dragon and the George will enjoy this novel that continues the adventures of Jim and friends in an alternate 14-century reality. The novel begins 5 months after the battle at Loathly Tower. Jim and Angie are adjusting to their new life within this parallel dimensional version of 14-century medieval England or as well as any 20-century persons might do in a 14-century medieval environment. Jim the now Sir James, Baron of Malencontri et Riveroak is trying to be a good English Lord, however, fate is conspiring against him and will set him on an adventure to recover the Prince of England who is being held captive in France. Little does Jim know that he'll be going up against the interests of the "Dark Powers" who are already at work to thwart Jim's mission. This will cumulate with Jim squaring off against the evil and powerful sorcerer Malvinne.

Overview

Mild Spoilers Ahead

It all started when Jim awakens one morning feeling that something isn't right and so it is. He's found himself once again with the body of a dragon and worse; he's transforming between man and dragon randomly with no apparent control over it. This is the first of Jim's problems. Jim tries to figure out what's happening to him but all he can get out of the Accounting Office is that his account has been activated. So Angie has his horse prepared for him and sends him off to seek Carolinus's help ASAP.

Once again Jim arrives at Carolinus's cottage not quite himself and learns that the magical energy he acquired at the Loathly Tower is energy that cannot remain at rest indefinitely and that it needs to be used or it will use him. Well Jim is desperate; being a man of logic, he is clueless when it comes to things magical. So Carolinus offers to take Jim on as an apprentice with strict provisions. Jim seizes the opportunity for he'd just as soon rid himself of that magical account. So Jim gets the starter kit and a walk through of the basic spells that can control his transformations. And so Jim begins his journey as a reluctant magician in training.

The second of Jim's problems is that the King of France is holding the Prince of England captive, and that the King of England is raising an army to free him. As a feudal lord, Jim is obligated to join this army with as many men-at-arms that he can spare. And so Jim finds himself training with his good friend Sir Brian Neville-Smythe and their combined men-at-arms in preparations for war. And in his spare time, Jim continues to practice magic, especially the magic that can transform himself between man and dragon.

Finally, Just when Jim thought he had enough troubles, the mere-dragon Secoh arrives with news vital to Jim for his travels abroad. Seems, the word has gotten out about his being able to change himself into a dragon at will. And so Secoh brings news to Jim concerning his status as a dragon and the obligations that he must observe, especially if he's going to be traveling abroad and spending any amount of time as a dragon there. This necessitates an immediate visit to the local dragon community, the very community that he and Angie first arrived in. After all preparations have been made, Jim, Sir Brian, and their men-at-arms depart for the gathering point on the English coast. Jim's reputation and talents do not go unnoticed by the commanders of the army. This gets him and Sir Brain selected for the special ops team that will try to locate and free the Prince covertly. They are introduced to Sir Giles de Mer who has special talents of his own as an additional member of the team. And so they set forth on their mission to discover the Prince's whereabouts and free him before the English army can form up and engage the French army.

Little does Jim know, that he's about to engage the "Dark Powers" yet again, this time running up against the powerful AAA rated mage Malvinne as he is the one keeping the Prince of England captive in his castle. The only thing that can save Jim, a D ranked apprentice, is his 20-century knowledge, problem solving skills, logical reasoning, and attitudes that allow him to find and craft solutions to problems (both magical as well as not) that are beyond the comprehension of his 14-century contemporaries.

Analysis

Additional Spoilers Ahead

Several years ago I was looking for a copy of the Dragon and the George (TDatG) and to my surprise discovered that Gordon R. Dickson wrote a series of novels continuing the adventures of his characters. Having been impressed with TDatG, I picked up the series. I must say, through his wit, charm, and attention to details Dickson spins another captivating yarn with The Dragon Knight. This series is not your typical time travel or time-slip story as Jim and Angie now reside in a parallel realm that is in many ways similar to their earth some 600 years ago but with amazing differences.

The Dragon Knight explores responsibilities and obligations and how they often compete with each other. We learn that this parallel universe is divided into numerous kingdoms (domains) as well as sub-kingdoms and that each kingdom is governed by its own set of rules. For example, we have the kingdom of men, magicians, dragons, wolves, naturals, demons, dead, and so on. Jim now finds himself with his feet/claws squarely in three of these kingdoms and discovers he is governed by their rules. As a baron he is obligated to provide leadership to the servants working his land and castle as well as obediently obeying the commands of his superiors. In this case, it's the providing of trained men to fight with the army as well as taking on a special assignment. As a magician, he has strict rules that he must observe for there is the powerful Accounting Office overseeing his activities. Finally, as a dragon, he must solicit permission to travel abroad from his community as well as for the providing of a surety to those he visits as his bond that he is a dragon of good standing and that he will be on his best behavior while in their territory.

As to why his magic choose to change Jim into a dragon, perhaps it had to do with Jim enjoying several aspects of being a dragon, or perhaps a feeling of obligation towards Smrgol and his dream of improving the relationship between the dragons and georges, or maybe simply as far as this realm is concerned, Jim is a dragon since that is what he was when he first arrived. The answer is probably closer to the later as Dickson tries to obfuscate the fact that the Accounting Office activated Jim's magical account 6 months to the day of his arrival in this realm. That means Jim was a dragon with a magical account upon the day of his arrival, gaining a substantial deposit to his account after defeating the "Dark Powers" at Loathly Tower 3 weeks later. It was the energy from his account that allowed Carolinus to retrieve his body from his native realm leaving Jim "in the black" magic wise.

As Jim starts his an apprenticeship in magic, we learn that advanced magic is a creative art that cannot be taught. The magicians must learn how to work magic on their own. Therefore magicians develop their own particular style and methods and that no two magicians work magic in the same way. We also learn that magicians are rated from the lowly D class such as Jim to the highest ranking of AAA+ such as Carolinus and that only 3 such magicians hold this rank.

We also learn more about the structure of the magic at work. In the beginning, everything was magical. And so the working of magic was prized and most costly (in terms of energy) when it was used for a purpose that only the first practitioner figured out. As more people understood the principle behind the art, the energy needed to produce the magic became less and less until it entered the realm of the everyday that everyone understood and at which point required no magical energy to produce. And so we learn that in this dimension, magic is eventually replaced by science once the art of the magic is understood by the masses. Jim is also instructed that the best forms of magic are those that have entered the public domain. They require little or no energy and are less prone to tampering from others. This works to Jim's advantage as his advanced knowledge gives him a leg up on his 14-century contemporaries. We also learn that there is an unwritten rule forbidding magicians of near equal rank to directly fight each other for fear of the great damage they can do to the various kingdoms. So we're not surprised to learn that Carolinus is using Jim as a pawn in a bigger game to take down an evil acquaintance.

Throughout the story, we get a detailed view of the life styles as well as customs of 14-century England/France as well as the issues and problems that a contemporary person would face. We also get to examine the structure and workings of warfare during this time with a detailed view on how individuals fought as well as how the armies were organized, lead, fought, and eventually capitulated.

We also see Jim's character develop as he comes to terms with who and what he is. This novel is more about strategy then use of arms/magic. We see Jim developing his strategic nature as he tries to assimilate as much as possible about any situation before developing a solution. Often waiting until the last minute to formulate his plan of action. We also see how Jim eventually learns how to use his various obligations as well as talents to work together towards a common goal.

My only nitpick with this story is that the women characters (Angie, Geronde, and Danielle) are minor characters in this story. However, this is still a good read which introduces us to several major series characters as well as sets the back-story for Jim and his abilities for the remainder of the series.

Written on Friday 20th August 2010 by .

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The Dragon Knight, a novel by Gordon R Dickson

Book Details

  • The Dragon Knight
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN:
  • Published:
  • Pages: 512
  • Format reviewed: Hardback
  • Review date: August, 2010
  • Language: English
  • Age Range: N/A