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.