An Audio-Book Review: I Woke Up as a What?


The Dragon Knight

By Gordon R. Dickson

Published by Audible Studios

Read by Paul Boehmer

The Book:

 

Not too long ago I reviewed the first book of the “Dragon Knight” series, The Dragon and the George. It is unusual, to say the least, for a series to be named for the second in a series, but in this case that might be most appropriate since in many ways the first book is quite different in nature from the rest of the series.

As I state in my review, The Dragon and the George, was, in many ways, a light and humorous parody of the medieval fantasy genre. Yes, it had its serious side, but through it all the hero, Jim Eckert, bumbled his way to victory as he learned about the new world he was in and how to cope with suddenly being a dragon. The story ended happily with Jim having rescued his wife, Angie from the Dark Powers and as they both chose to remain in the medieval fantasy world.

This story picks up a few months later with Jim and Angie trying to make their medieval fief, just a bit less medieval and meeting up with the resistance of the people who live there. Keep in mind that this was a period I which it was thought to be dangerously unhealthy to bathe in the winter because dirt and body stink would protect you from whatever they though caused disease. To paraphrase a line the Black Adder series, “A rat a day keeps the plague away.”

Anyway, for reasons never properly explained the “Powers that be” of this magical  world (aka the Accounting Office – an amusing concept from the first book that falls a bit flat in this one) decide that Jim should have the ability to change into a dragon at will. Perhaps because he briefly inhabited a dragon’s body in the first book? So one morning Jim wakes up as a dragon. Eventually he gets a few curmudgeonly hints on how to control it by the local wizard, Carolinus, and the story goes on,

It is not a bad story. In fact I think it is a pretty good one, but in the twenty odd years between the two projects, Dickson’s writing developed and changed. In most ways, it changed for the better, but his style of story-telling also developed and grew and the whole tone of this book, and indeed the rest of the series, is different. Gone is the tone of homage to the Harold Shea stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. This story is Dickson’s own.

The world is better developed as well. In the first book, in spite of names that sounded like they might have been part Latin, part English and part French (typical of the Plantagenet period, maybe), it felt like the geography of this world was made up from whole cloth, even if we did have an “English Wolf” and a Robin Hood-like character running about. This time around, it is made patently clear they are living in England as actual British place names are used and they must travel to France. It is possible that this is what Dickson had in mind from the start, of course. None of this directly conflicts with stuff in the first book, it is just far more specific, leaving much less to the reader’s imagination.

In short, the tone is more serious than the book that started it all. Is that a bad thing?  I don’t know. I know it cannot be because Dickson was incapable of keeping up the humorous tone of the first book. He wrote (and co-wrote in the case of the Hoka stories with Poul Anderson) some amazingly amusing stories in his career. I think he just felt that the best path for this series would be away from parody.

However, this does not mean he turns his back on his signature ability to take common medieval fantasy dangers and come up with novel solutions from a modern point of view, it is just that with Dickson’s more mature style of writing the tone of the book differed from the first. So, perhaps this book should have been written much sooner? Maybe.

However, all that aside, this is a very good story as we follow Jim and his friends to France where they got to rescue the prince in the middle of what might be that world’s Hundred Years War. While there, he needs to deal with the local dragons (I never trusted those French Dragons and couldn’t see where Jim did, but…), team up with a selkie from North Umberland (along with his companion from the first book, Sir Brian) and fight the Dark powers, once again, this time in the form of an evil wizard. All in all, good fun.

The Audiobook:

Paul Boehmer’s reading of this book is just as good as his job with The Dragon and the George. He speaks clearly, does not use funny voices and yet does not make it seem as though the characters have been blended audibly together. It’s an excellent job. The only thing that bothered me is that he actually pronounces Welsh and French names correctly. I don’t. When reading I pronounce them in my head as though they are English. However, that’s my fault, not his. He’s in the right in this one. It is just that every so often I got jolted when a name came out entirely unlike the way I had read it. Well, no points off for getting it right.

All told this is a good story even if different feeling from the first and Mr. Boehmer reads it very well.

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