The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True
NOTE: I read an advance reader copy. The book will be published December 15, 2020.
I’ll admit I had my doubts. It’s hard not to doubt a book described thus:
Is this the best mediocre comic fantasy about a self-styled legendary bard and four neophyte adventurers aiming to take on a very unusual dragon on behalf of a bunch of dim-witted villagers?
Books that describe themselves the way The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True describes itself can go a couple of ways: they can be amazing, or they can be total fucking disasters written by the barely literate. However, I’ve never been able to pass up a free book, so I jumped at the chance to win a digital ARC for The Part About the Dragon. I’m glad I did, because the book is hilarious, self-aware, and definitely not above skewering the men who usually inhabit high fantasy. If Brooklyn Nine-Nine suddenly got plopped into a fantasy world, this would most likely be the result. My love for this book is probably at least partially fueled by my overwhelming need to read something that is not Dune, but who cares? The book is great either way. It even managed to get in a Harry Potter reference, to which I said TEN POINTS TO GRYFFINDOR.
The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True relates the story of Heloise the Bard, a mind-blowingly vain half-elf who finds herself inextricably linked to a group of inexperienced adventurers attempting to slay a dragon. The group comprises Nadinta Ghettinwood, an elf; Rumscrabble Tooltinker, a middle-aged half-dwarf half-halfling with a thing for magic tricks; Borgunder Gunderbor, an incontinent rock giant; and Whiska Tailiesen, a giant talking rat with magical powers and no manners. (This probably goes without saying, but Whiska was my favorite character.) Though she tries to extricate herself from their company, Heloise ends up tagging along with the group, and accompanies them while they rethink some orc-related stereotypes, slog through shit-scented swamps, burn all their clothes after trekking through said swamps, turn their brains inside out trying to answer impossible riddles (spoiler alert: there is no answer), fight a minotaur with IBS, and confront Melvin, the dragon who inadvertently kick-started their quest. Through it all, Heloise – in her official capacity as bard – tells the two stories that make up the book. One is the glorious, non-socially-conscious high(ish) fantasy version of events, in which everything goes smoothly and orcs are Bad and elves are Good. The second story tells a different version of the first, a.k.a. What Actually Happened.
Probably the best thing about the book, aside from its humor, is the glee with which it shoots down men who need to get with the times. Misogyny and racism are called out repeatedly. Chauvinism is rewarded with ridicule. The one man who tries to blame his village/town’s problems on the woman who refused to sleep with him is promptly shut down. This exchange may mark the exact moment I sold my soul to this book:
“While we appreciate your opinion, as always, Farmer Benton,” replied the Alderman smoothly, “I’m quite sure that it’s not the Widow Gershon’s unwillingness to, ah, lay [sic] with you that’s causing the dragon to attack. As such, burning her at the stake is unlikely to resolve our situation.”
“Ach! How much do ye ken fer suren? Might culd be her monthly bleed!”
“I haven’t had a monthly bleed in fifteen years, you tiny-todgered pig lover!”
LAAAAAAAAWL. I need to be friends with Widow Gershon, though I’m pretty sure she’d call me a harlot. Then there was this:
“[Heloise] had a real nice can, too, if it’s not improper to say,” continued the man.
“It actually is,” replied the Alderman. “Exceedingly improper, in fact.”
And this, which comes very very close to being the best damn line in the book:
“Ah, yes, well, no one means to suggest that the racial heritage of our good heroes would be in any way an impediment. After all, we here in Skendrick draw great strength from our, ah, diversity of, ah, um, well, our diversity of points of view, I suppose.” He surveyed the all-white, all-human, mostly male, universally stupid assemblage.
Of course, none of this is to say that the book is perfect. It was sprinkled quite liberally with typos, which I noted and will attempt to force onto the appropriate authorities. I liked Heloise overall, but there were a couple of points where she was just a liiiiiittle too questionable, such as her attempt to create humor by telling the rest of the group they were going to die. It’s true that their odds of defeating both a minotaur and a dragon weren’t amazing, but they’d just won a battle, and that seems like a pretty shitty thing to say in the aftermath. Nadi does call her out for it and she does somewhat recant her statement, but her “apology” doesn’t actually include the words “I’m sorry,” and I’m not sure I would’ve accepted it in their place. And, as much as I love the last line I quoted, it does make me wonder: How diverse is this world? The main cast represents many different species and is diverse in that respect, but the humanoid characters all seem to be white. Will there be humanoid characters from other parts of the world in future books? I sure hope so, because otherwise that “all-white” line is going to fall flat on its face.
Overall, however, I didn’t have any major issues with the book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical copy. This series and this world have a lot of potential, and I’m excited to see what Gibson does with them.