Dragons. Or maybe cats…
I’ve been thinking about dragons lately. What makes them so compelling? Almost every culture celebrates them in some form or other, from the sinuous whiskered creature of eastern cultures to the scaly reptilian western version. They come in mini to supersized McDragon formats, live forever—or at least until some joker in a metal suit starts sticking them—and seem equally likely to show great wisdom and a taste for princess tartare.
And the princess? We’ve all seen her—that drip waiting for St. George to come along and slay her dragons for her. Over at Disney, she gets big eyes, a talking rodent or two, and a sweetheart merchandising deal to sell copies of her dresses to little girls. Mothers of daughters everywhere must cringe.
At least I did. With three daughters who would much rather be on that horse handling their own rescues, I was delighted when Patricia Wrede’s Princess Cimorene came along. Before a boy wizard saved the world, Cimorene was setting a kickass example for young girls.
So this post was going to be all writerly and I was going to pull all these thoughts together into an awesome essay about channeling our inner dragon that would completely explain life and everything. Only… my neighbors have an adorable cat who stopped by for a visit. She rubbed against me, hopped into my lap for a cuddle, closed her eyes and started to purr like nobody’s business. Just as I was seriously reviewing the reasons we don’t have a cat, she slashed at my petting hand, leaped to the ground, and in one feral pounce had her jaws around one of the pair of juvenile crows who live at the bottom of the garden. I screamed and ran at her, causing her to lose her grip on the crow (which was about her size or maybe even a bit larger). She hissed at me and stomped (yes, apparently those little kitty paws can pack a mean stomp) back to her own garden, every step (with tail twitching in disgust) proclaiming my total failure as a neighbor/apex predator.
I remember a few years back when the BBC did a report listing the most successful predators, with felines capturing six of the top ten spots, and domestic kitties coming in at number six (above, I might add, lions, wolves, polar bears, and tigers). The report also noted dryly that only about 28% of the domestic cats’ kills were actually eaten—a fact I can corroborate. (Cats who have owned me are the reason why to this day, I am incapable of putting on my shoes without a thorough shakeout to ensure that no kitty-prey has been deposited within.)
And that’s when it hit me. Dragons aren’t in any way a reflection of ourselves. Think about it. Which two creatures have personified magic and mystery throughout the ages? Which are just as likely to slash as they are to comfort? Which are fearless stone killer enigmas? Oh, sure dragons have been known to talk, fly, breathe fire, and do magic. Frankly, so have cats, as any cat owner could attest. Cats will only eat what they ate the day before, but as the fairy tales all concur, dragons who are used to a steady menu of princess du jour get quite testy at the suggestion of a dietary change. And okay, while dragons are (technically) not real, I could say the same about at least two of the cats that have owned me.
Frankly, I love the idea that cats have the souls of dragons. So next time Muffin starts to take an unhealthy interest in the kids’ Frozen dolls, you might want to consider teaming him up with your little princess and suggesting they save the world. But just in case, I’d keep the fire extinguisher handy.
And, for a terrific look at how dragons, history, and fantasy combine to make an incredible story, please see my review below of the final volume of Caren Werlinger’s epic Dragon Mage Saga.
The Standing Stones: The Chronicles of Caymin (The Dragonmage Saga Book III) by Caren J Werlinger
Caymin and Péist, the young dragonmage and dragon who helped to end the last dragon war, have returned from that conflict longing only for peace. But peace is not to be found. Éire is on the brink of being torn asunder as Christians battle pagans, raiders from the north attack the coast, and their enemies—the power-hungry dragonmage and dragon they fought in the otherworld—have escaped from their prison.
Caymin and Péist are the only ones who can thwart them but, in order to do so, they’ll have to do the unthinkable—bring all of the dragons and their mages back to this realm. The dragons can only be summoned and controlled by one who holds the Méarógfola—the Bloodstone. The problem is, the Bloodstone hasn’t been seen since it was stolen a thousand winters ago.
In a race through time, Caymin and Péist will have to go back through the Portal, back a thousand winters, back to set in motion everything that must unfold as it was meant to. Finding the Méarógfola is only the beginning of their challenges. Old factions among the dragons make them as difficult to control as the human clans. Destroying the Bloodstone is the only way to end this once and for all, but there are those who will do anything, anything, to get their hands on it.
Book Three of The Dragonmage Saga
My Review: 4.5 stars out of 5 for The Standing Stones: Chronicles of Caymin (The Dragon Mage Saga, Book III)
In my reviews of the the first and second book in this series, I mentioned early Ireland’s rich history of what we would today call magic and fantasy. But now that I live near circles of standing stones dating back thousands of years, while just up the hill from us is an ancient sign politely indicating the way to the Fairie Glen, the mystery and power of these sites is a tie to people and events going back before our records. From our modern viewpoint, we may find it hard to believe that so much of ancient society was informed by the belief that supernatural forces controlled and influenced almost every aspect of their lives. Only…what if that was exactly what was happening? What if there were people with special gifts, trained and honed over a lifetime to wield tools we can’t understand? What happens when that supernaturally-based belief system crashes against the equally supernaturally-based system propagated by Christian missionaries?
This conflict forms the basis for Caren J. Werlinger’s Dragonmage series. Set in an ancient Ireland steeped in magic traditions, it tells the story of a young girl who is the one chosen to fill ancient prophecies while her entire world is crashing against the rapidly spreading new Christian beliefs. In one sense, a story like this seems like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic when we all know what is coming. But in another sense, it gives us a chance to imagine the lives of people to whom magic was a very real and present force. Author Caren Werlinger continues to balance delicately between the magic lore taught and practiced by her fictional mages and the reality that we know it was the Christians who were eventually successful.
This is the third book in the series, and I have to be honest with readers. Like any epic, there are a LOT of characters, whose interactions and adventures in earlier books form the backbone to the story arc. But the good news for those new to the series, is that you have the chance to take in the entire series, without waiting for each new instalment like the rest of us.
As a short (and hopefully not too spoilery) recap, the earlier books have already told the story of a child called Ash. Adopted by badgers (badgers!) as an infant after her village is destroyed by invaders, she survives because of her ability to communicate with animals. Although discovered and accepted as apprentice by mages, Ash and her new friends’ existence is threatened by the increasing influence of the Christianity introduced to Ireland by Saint Patrick in the fifth century.
Bonded with the baby dragon Péist, Ash receives her true name—Caymin—and discovers her destiny as a dragonmage, one chosen to travel through a time Portal to save other mages and their dragons, prevent a horrific war, and keep the spreading Christians from destroying Ireland’s magic heritage.
The world building continues to be wonderful. Not only do we get the strong sense of the realities of everyday life, but we also see the lure of the “what if”. In Book III, for example, Caymin and Péist learn the true nature of the rings of Standing Stone that dot the British Isles. In telling their story, author Caren Werlinger takes many of the tropes of epic fantasy and converts them to the needs of her tale:
- Setting: Yes, there is an ancient world where a deadly enemy, once thought defeated, now returns to gather his [why is it always his?] dark forces. In a typical epic fantasy, this would mean the end of the world (or at least the bits we like with, you know, dashing heroes, and good sanitation, and of course ice cream…) is at hand. But wait! Although raised in secrecy with no knowledge of his true destiny, our epic fantasy Hero gathers a devoted but motley band, some Shitastic Artifact/ Ring of Power/ Awesome Sword-thingie, and they all proceed to kick Dark Force butt, after which Hero manages to personally defeat the Dark Lord, probably in one-on-one combat. In Caymin’s tale, while she was technically raised in secret—by badgers!—and does gather a group around her, the hero thing is done by a girl who is still basically a child, with help of course from her pet dragon.
- Props: There is a properly scary shitastic artifact of doom—not to mention dragons aplenty—but the motley posse is basically children, really old people, and of course badgers.
- Quest: Although there is a reluctant quest, Caymin isn’t The One, hidden heir to the kingdom. She’s the child of peasants, brutally burned as a baby and further scarred. She and her dragon just get on with saving the world because they are the only ones who can, although neither expects to survive the attempt.
- Romance: In typical epic fantasy, the Hero finds a snarky but brave girl who is surprisingly good with a sword, but nevertheless needs to be rescued with depressing regularity, after which they have sex (or if it’s YA they have a Moment and maybe even a Kiss) on horse/dragon/flying creature-back. Okay, not so much in this story. Not only is Caymin still, technically, a child but she’s separated by literally hundreds of years (and the odd dimensional shift) from the one person for whom she starts to feel an attraction. So—to the probable relief of her dragon Péist—there are no romantic dragonback encounters.
There are a few things that I might have changed. In keeping with the huge cast common to epic fantasy, this volume continues to introduce new characters whose main purpose seems to be tying up the fate of every orphan ever mentioned (and like all good epics, almost everyone IS an orphan). Also, Camin and Péist’s ultimate fate is still a bit unclear.
But all that pales against what I consider to be the finest achievement of these volumes. I admire the way Caymin’s character develops and grows, even as the slightly more alien dragon also tries to find his path as he matures. Caymin’s confusion about her attraction to another girl is sensitively and beautifully handled, fitting well into the context of the strong women who have guided her. And her acceptance of the heroic role she accepts owes more to those who have guided her than to any Prophecy, fighting prowess, or innate magical ability.
If you know a child entering adolescence, especially if they are questioning their sexuality, if they have any handicaps, or if they would like to see a hero who is NOT a Hollywood Ken-&-Barbie-R-Us clone, please do them a favor and send them this series. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, adventure, and coming of age stories.
**I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
- Book Title: The Standing Stones: Chronicles of Caymin (The Dragon Mage Saga, Book III)
- Author: Caren J Werlinger
- Genre: YA paranormal fantasy/alternate history
- Publisher: Corgyn Publishing, LLC (June 6, 2017)
- Pages: 385
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Caren was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading every book she could get her hands on, and crafting her own stories. She was influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather, and the Brontë sisters. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty-five years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and their canine fur-children. She began writing creatively again several years ago. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Debut Author award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2009. Since then, she has published several more novels, winning multiple Rainbow Awards and a 2014 GCLS Award for In This Small Spot. Her most recent release, The Standing Stones: The Chronicles of Caymin, is the third volume in The Dragonmage Saga.