Friday, May 13, 2022

Thoughts on Search for the Astral Dragon

Hello hello! As I've mentioned several times, today I'm sharing my thoughts on Bryan Davis's latest release, Search for the Astral Dragon. I remember reading an early version of the first chapter years and years ago, when Davis was still doing writing advice and critiques on his blog, so it was cool to get to see the finished story now. I can tell you up front that it's a story well worth picking up — read on to find out why.

 Thoughts on Search for the Astral Dragon

  1. This story has the same vibes as Dragons in Our Midst, and I'm here for it. I keep trying to figure out how to explain what I mean by this, and I don't think I'm going to be able to articulate my precise thoughts, but — reading Search for the Astral Dragon feels very much like reading Dragons in Our Midst, even though the stories and characters are quite different indeed. I don't think that feeling is just because this is a middle grade/early YA novel (versus the adult works Davis has mostly been writing lately), nor do I think it's just because of the comparative ages of the characters. The fact that it's less gritty than Reapers or Oculus Gate probably does have something to do with it, but I think it's also the themes and the general "attitude" of the book. Whatever the source, I very much appreciated it.
  2. Davis does space adventure quite well. Bryan Davis has plenty of experience in sci-fi writing — even his fantasy series have a healthy dose of science-fiction elements. However, this is the first time that he's taken his stories into space, and he does an excellent job of it. The space travel and space combat elements felt believable, and we have a nice variety of planets and beings living on these planets. (I will say that I had trouble differentiating or, to some degree, picturing some of the alien races, whose names I can't currently remember . . . but that may also be a me problem.)
  3. I liked the characters, though I didn't get super attached to them. I mean, I very much cared what happened to them and whether they made it to the end of the story, but I don't think any of them will be living rent-free in my head. Megan Willis is a spunky, determined lead who feels pleasantly different from any of Davis's previous protagonists. Oliver, Crystal, and Dirk were all interesting in their ways, and Perdanthus was probably my second-favorite character (though I don't think I could put my finger on why).
  4. Some of the "humor" was pretty juvenile. Humor, for the record, is in quotation marks because I didn't find the bits I'm referring to particularly funny. Davis is usually pretty good at including lighthearted moments in his stories, typically via friends teasing each other or, if the situation allows, being goofy as friends often are, and these moments generally feel pretty natural. However, there's a particular running "joke" in Astral Dragon (at least, I assume it's meant to be funny) that made me groan each of the half-dozen times it came up, and not in the "That pun was so bad it's good" way. It's not offensive, it's just . . . not funny to me, and probably not to anyone except maybe a preteen boy. (I remember having a similar problem in Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World, so it could just be a thing with how Davis writes for younger audiences.)
  5. The themes were excellent. A common theme in many of Davis's books is the tension between justice and mercy, and that's particularly evident in Search for the Astral Dragon. Davis encourages readers to ponder along with Megan when and if it is right or wrong to take a life — even a villain's life — and what an "acceptable sacrifice" really means, if it exists at all. Weighty topics for a middle grade novel, but Davis handles them well, with enough nuance for adult readers and enough sensitivity for younger ones.

Does Search for the Astral Dragon sound like your cup of tea? If so, you can pick it up on Amazon or on the author's site — and please tell me in the comments what element of the book you think sounds most interesting! If you've read it already, do you know what I mean about it feeling like Dragons in Our Midst?
Thanks for reading!

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