I’ve been feeling guilty about the number of unread books on my shelves. In particular, I have a bunch of books I picked up cheap at used bookstores, on the theory that they looked vaguely interesting and why not? Since these are even more prone to sitting unread that others, I made a vague resolution to start trying some of them. I started with Joanne Bertin’s The Last Dragonlord mostly because it was on a shelf that I looked at every day.
I believe I bought this because 1) it was a Tor book, and 2) it had a cover blurb by Judith Tarr, who was not on my mental list of “overly blurby.” I discovered when I read the Acknowledgments that Bertin was apparently a participant in a writing workshop that Tarr ran or taught at. (This is not a suggestion that Tarr wasn’t serious in her blurb, but a possible explanation why I don’t recall seeing her blurb a lot of books.)
Anyway, I suspect that one’s opinion of this book will be determined by one’s opinion of the central worldbuilding conceit—which is not revealed fully until about halfway through, as I recall, so it suppose this could be considered a spoiler. You’ve been warned.
Okay. There are truedragons, which are just what you think they are, truehumans, which are just what you think they are, and Dragonlords, which are weredragons that can change at will. Dragonlords get made when somehow a truedragon soul and a truehuman soul get stuck together and then split in two before birth: each Dragonlord has a “soultwin,” someone who literally has half of their (human) soul. (The dragon bits usually sleep most of the time, apparently, and when the human bits tire of life, they take over.) I don’t recall anything as to whether all soultwins are of opposite genders, or whether they have the same birthdates. The book does state that not all soultwins live happily ever after, at least.
Also, Dragonlords function as sort of super-arbitrators and judges; in this case, they’re asked to settle a regency. Some characters ask, essentially, “hey, what gives them the right?” I could tell that these were supposed to be the Bad Guys, but I rather sympathized with the question: “the gods destined us to be the arbiters between nations” is not really what I consider a good answer. Neither is the longer creation story, which tells how Dragonlords were created by Eeeevil people and decided they would atone for that Eeeevil by seeking to avert war instead. (Yes, the theory is that they’re invited in for dispute-solving. It still strikes me as a dubious setup.)
There was probably a time in my life when I would have thought the Dragonlord concept was really cool. Now, it doesn’t do anything for me, and as a result, I wasn’t that enthused by the book.
This book did keep me up reading one night, but it was more the combination of a massively uncomfortable hotel bed and the realization that, every time I thought I knew where the plot was going, I was right—so I kept reading to see if it kept holding. And it did.
I don’t really regret the hour or two of my life I spent on this, but as you might have guessed, I’m not going to read the sequel.