A young man embarks to capture and raise a dragon for the Draconic racing games.

     This story seems inspired by the cartoon Dragon Booster which also includes the coveted gold dragon. The premise, though trite, looked quite intriguing at first. Then I discovered the sympathetic bond shared between man and dragon gets used for petty competitions to amuse the masses. If you love something, why send it to a slaughterhouse?

“Over the years dragons and their riders had served in many capacities, from war heroes to intrepid explorers.”

War and exploration sound more fulfilling than flying in a big circle, and that one line loomed in my head the entire game.
     The story stretches out well with its small section count, making days and months pass. It provides a decent buildup to the one race. This does, though, make the pluralized title a lie.
     The rules look stat-heavy for a mere 68 sections. Both human and dragon start with 7 health, which seems odd. I believe a Tyrannosaurus rex could take more punches to the face than I could. In my playthrough, Reputation only increased from 0 to 1, and the checks only cared about its greater-than-zero status. It seems like an underused stat, more like a checkbox.
     Though I like the idea of a psychic link represented in the rules for health loss, others may not. An old Blizzard Entertainment rule comes to mind: Don't punish, reward. I also like the strange rule of remaining alive despite a health of zero. Readers don't get much of a story if everything stops before the end, and few gamebooks correct this.
     Colvin describes the dragons quite majestically. His enthusiasm here shows, but I advise him to apply equal effort to all other themes. Flip randomly through Banks's entry, After the Flag Fell, and note how every paragraph shines with addictively interesting verbs, sentences, ideas, and character. While stylistically jejune in some places, each paragraph in The Draconic Challenges has a clear topic and doesn't stray too much. This batch of sentences shows the power of periods that so many writers miss out on:

“Your parents and older siblings despaired at your foolishness. There are no dragons in the cold southern climes. Dragons are fire incarnate. They reside only where the sun beats down mercilessly, warming their blood and allowing their flight.”

See, a bunch of dashes and semicolons would ruin all that. The writing relies on cadence and idea flow. It punches the reader hard and moves on. I only saw one semicolon used in the entire introduction and rules section and no dashes because the sentences required none.
     Alas, the better aspects of the writing fall apart with so little attention to basic rules. Sentence fragments, some missing commas and hyphenation, and commas used as periods make the prose jarring at times. Ellipses need three dots, not four. Space breaks only need three asterisks. Commas must separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction (usually). Dialogue needs its own paragraph.
     Stylistically, the vague writing adds to the dryness. The reader gets left on his own with this one:

“You don't stop moving until you're some distance from the cave.”

Moving how? Some distance means what exactly? Vague words like building, clothes, and people, need replacement with specifics. For better clarity, related terms should stay together. So significantly should go after will in this sentence: “Cold will slow a dragon's ability to act significantly.” We also see many try and's instead of try to's, oxymorons like fairly certain, and tautologies like and also.
     Some sentences will stack problems and could use policing.

“Butterflies flutter uncomfortably in your stomach.” Negation, -ly adverb, cliché.

“Additionally it's a very long way down should you should lose your footing, the chances of survival would be very small even before the dragons arrived to deal with your presence.” Expletive it's, poor qualifiers very, repeated word should, missing conjunction and, tense-shifting arrived, wordy.

     A quick edit could have caught sloppiness like “as she puts on a final bust of speed.” Additionally, we see:
Effect (noun) instead of affect (verb)
Dice (plural) instead of die (singular).
Isn't instead of aren't.
Peaking instead of peeking.
To instead of too.
Let instead of let's.

     Perhaps in its oversentimentality, the prose sounds too modern. “Ok, drama over” and “slow motion” plop the reader firmly in the 2010s. This description rushes in from the 18th century:

“Dressed in fine clothes of colourful silk, his moustache is elegantly curled at the tips, with a top hat completing the picture.”

Wordlessly and press get overused, as do many longer-than-usual clichés like “look what the cat dragged in” and “you'll get eaten alive” on 67. Section 51 gets quite strange as dragons become humans. One buys supplies in town. Another, referred to as a “soul mate,” gets its vitals checked.
     Even with the good ending, the conclusion feels inconsequential or about as satisfying as one of the first hockey games of the season. The race demands linear checks of all the dragon stats, nullifying the player's earlier stat-boosting choices. Some of the player stats remain ignored in a playthrough. The story displays many creative events, but it needs that eight rereads plus some style changes to share those vivid images with readers. I recommend that Colvin invest as much time in a writing project as he would with, say, taming a dragon.

 


Comments

Jac
11/27/2015 12:43am

Thank you for the in depth review.

One thing I've learnt from the reviews is I need to watch more television * laughs *. Every movie/TV show that this book has been compared to, has been one I haven't seen. (I've never even heard of Dragon Booster before now.) I guess that means this is a fairly generic topic for the book I've written.

Just thought I should point out, this is actually my first finished gamebook, (and first novel for that matter, prior to that the only things I've had published is a short story). It was a bit of a steep learning curve and of course means I'm not in the same league as some of the more experienced writers who entered this year. I entered for for the experience and because I wanted to write the book, more than anything else and never expected to place.

I ran into a few problems, the largest being time. I didn't find out about this competition until after entry submission was started. It meant I converted and finished what was only a sketched out/partially written COG novel into a finished traditional gamebook in that stretch of time. Probably a bad idea in itself and on top of that, I had some other things in life came up and meant I had even less time available than originally planned. Maybe I should have held off submitting it to the competition this year.

Spelling/grammar- thank you for the feedback. Yes that is a problem of mine, always has been. No it's not because I haven't read it though. Because of the tight time frame, I find when I read something of mine too many times within a short period I start reading what I think I've written, rather than what is actually there and start missing the lost periods and misplaced apostrophes. The remedy for me, is to put the book down for a week or two and come back to it, something I'd already done the other weeks and picked up a number of silly mistakes. Other than that, there's always the option of paying someone to edit it for me, but in this case I didn't have the time or funds for it. It's not an excuse for bad writing but it wasn't pure carelessness on my part.

I was unaware of the correct number of ellipses and asterisks to use, I'll remember that for future use. I see what you mean about the more modern word usage being jarring, that could be easily fixed.

I am aware of Felicity's writing, she has a nice writing style (and also won the competition :) )

Another point was brought up in the form of the “tick the boxes” effect like with reputation and some skill checks. Although you can get higher than one for reputation, the effect is not as significant as I wanted it to be. There were going to be a few extra story arcs which I couldn't put in due to the word limit. In retrospect, I should have dropped one of the lair options at the start and freed up words to use in one of the later chapters I wanted to write, but time got a bit too tight to re-write it properly and re-organise all the stats which led to it being submitted way it was.

I take your point about the health levels. They were scaled the same because I thought it would make life easier for the reader to track them, but it probably makes more sense to scale up for the dragon.

Dragons becoming humans- not quite, he was sent into town with a note explaining what was going on and what supplies were needed to be sent back with the dragon, presumably with an IOU attached from Kale. I can't remember, maybe I didn't specify that clearly enough. I'll look into it.

I agree the ending probably needs reworking to make it more satisfying, you're not the only one to comment on it.

Anyway thank you for the review, hopefully I can makes some edits which will improve the book or at least improve anything I write in the future.

Reply
Stillman
11/28/2015 6:29am

Greetings, Jac. You described a familiar problem of reading your work the way you see it in your head. We all tend to do that. I found a good tip recently that may help in spotting errors. Simply increase the line spacing and font type (to Georgia or whatever looks different than your default). You'll see the text quite differently as though someone else wrote it.

Regarding the dragon going to town, it just seemed a bit weird. I pictured the dragon flicking his claws to knock on a shopkeeper's door and the potentially terrified reaction afterwards. It came off as too comedic in that intense or sad situation.

Reply
Jac
11/29/2015 3:30am

Thanks for the tip. I'll give that a go, definitely worth a try :)

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