The Winter Dragon: A Fantasy Novella by Jo-Anne Tomlinson
I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of this fantasy novella, though I did pre-order it as well.
In the land of eternal winter, archer Katja and her sister prepare for the festivities of Juletine, when the people of Brunn give thanks to the Winter Dragon. Though no one has seen the dragon for centuries, tradition demands the villagers honor the gifts of healing and protection given to their ancestors. Everyone but the king, who for reasons unknown hasn’t shown his face in several years, leaving his haughty-but-handsome son to conduct the rituals.
The bothersome prince isn’t the only thing troubling Katja. The barrels of healing water grow smaller each year as the frost wall grows thinner. When the traditional hunt goes terribly wrong, endangering her family, Katja must journey beyond the safety of her home in order to save it.
I can tell the author has siblings, because Katja and her sister behave exactly like you’d expect for two girls who both love and torment each other. Katja’s stubbornness gives her the grit she needs as the protagonist, and the prince comes around by the end. This short tale packs a lot into a few pages—dragons, princes, imps, and giant mountain goats. I’d like to spend an entire novel in this world.
The plot moves steadily with the perfect balance of action and reaction. The story intertwines personal and societal stakes as Katja must journey up the mountain to save not only her family, but her people.
I wish the novella had been longer, a short novel even. A lot of the emotional turnaround happened too quickly, leaving the deeper conflicts resolved but unprocessed, shallow. A novella is too short to dig deeper into such transformations.
The author’s prose is descriptive enough to set the fantastical scene, but not so heavy as to slow the plot. She writes in long sentences, without too much purple prose. I’m impressed an author from a tropical island can write such a great winter story. I doubt I could write a convincing story that takes place on a beach.
As I mentioned above, Tomlinson prioritizes action over emotion, which is appropriate for this genre, I remind myself. I’ve been reading a lot of high-drama contemporary fiction lately, so while I felt the emotional conflict resolution was shallow, readers exclusive to fantasy may find the level just right.
What better way to spice up your Christmas season than with dragons and giant mountain goats? The short-but-powerful story grips readers with Katja’s personal stakes while raising the pressure with threats to Brunn’s way of life. Well worth reading, and I hope the author writes more. I can never get enough dragons.
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