Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Dragon Tax, by Madison Keller
Portland, OR, Hundeliebe Press, June 2016, trade paperback $9.99 (141 pages), Kindle $2.99.
This lighthearted little book is an expansion of the short story that appeared in the RainFurrest 2015 charity anthology, A Menagerie of Heroes; now out of print. Sybil Dragonsbane, a young professional dragon slayer, is called to the Kingdom of Thima. It has a dragon problem – but not the usual kind:
“‘Actually, we quite like having a dragon on the island,’ the King sat forward, eyes shining. Multiple chins jiggled as he wagged his hard around theatrically. ‘They bring lots of adventurers through the town, adventurers who all pay for a permit to hunt the dragon. They drop gold at local businesses before going off on their hunt. Whether they survive or not, that is not my problem.’” (pgs. 5-6)
None of the previous dragon hunters have survived, and the dragon has amassed quite a pile of gold and gems. Now King Jonathan has decided to tax it. The problem is getting the dragon to pay the tax. That’s why he has summoned Sybil; to offer her the new post of Thima’s dragon tax collector:
“‘My fee is double.’ Sybil placed her hands on her daggers.
‘Double?’ the King roared, surging to his feet. ‘I’m not asking you to kill the thing.’
‘True, what you’re asking is even more dangerous. You’re asking me to leave a dragon alive, a dragon that now will know my scent and my tricks. If that won’t work for you …’” (p. 8)
What happens, about a third of the way through, is unexpected. It is probably supposed to be a major surprise to the reader, but it is impossible to keep from giving away a spoiler and to go on reviewing the final 2/3 of the book. Briefly, Riastel the dragon turns human; Sybil learns that King Jonathan and his wizard Baldwin lied to her and have a more sinister plot, and the dragonhunter and dragon-turned-human team up to save both their lives. Also, Sybil is a young woman and Riastel makes a very handsome and hunky human male. Romance ensues. This is Book One of a series, so the reader will not be surprised to have an ending that leads to further adventures.
The Dragon Tax is Book One of The Dragon Tax Saga. It’s good fun, but it’s very lightweight. From a furry viewpoint, the dragon can talk – that’s it. Some of the rationalizations are not really convincing; for example, the laborious reasoning why Sybil doesn’t quickly kill Riastel when he’s turned into a helpless human in front of her:
“‘Look, it’s just a guess. In the meantime we should get out of here.’ The girl cocked her head, her eyes raking up and down his new form.
‘We?’ Riastel snorted and scooted back again. A sharp rock dug into his rear and he yelped.
‘Yes, we. You won’t last a day without some help.’ She stood and offered her hand to him.
Riastel shivered and flinched back. ‘You have a cloak made of a dead dragon. You’re a dragon hunter. Why would I let you help me?’
‘You think I want to work with a dragon? You’re all killers, but, look at you, I …’ she trailed off and shook her head, hand still extended out to him. ‘Just, I’m offering to help you. If you want to return to your scaly, fire-breathing self, you need my help.’” (p. 43)
I may be disappointed because I read The Dragon Tax in its short-story form in A Menagerie of Heroes. That was only 26 pages; a tightly-written gem. The 141-page novel seems bloated by comparison. Sybil’s refusal to kill the dragon-turned-human there could be justified by her surprise at Riastel’s turning human, and deciding not to do anything final until she’s found out what’s going on. The more that she consciously rationalizes the choice in the novel, the less convincing it seems. The first scene in the short story, of the dragon on the beach, seems weaker when rewritten to appear after the throne room scene. But for those who have not read the short story, the novel is fine.
Keller has done her own cover. It’s good in showing exactly how Sybil Dragonsbane is supposed to look. She might get a different cover that fits the paranormal romance genre, and package the book to play up the growing romance between Sybil and Riastel-as-hunky-human.