I’m not a big “genre” guy, whether it comes to movies, music, or books. If I like something, I like something, regardless of whether it ticks all of the boxes for “fantasy” or “sci-fi” or “horror.”
That said, I do enjoy a good fantasy from time to time, and I recently finished one, Down the Dragon Hole: A Tale of the School of Spells & War by Morgon Newquist.
And in the interests of full disclosure, I have to let you know that I have become friends with both Morgon and Russell online over the past year.
With that out of the way, on to the review.
Down the Dragon Hole is a fun, breezy fantasy romp of close to 60 pages. It takes place in a world I know nothing about, but Ms. Newquist fills in the details as the story progresses. There is a university, the titular School of Spells & War, that teaches both magic and the fighting arts, though the two sides separated both in their studies and ideologically.
Alis, a wizard, is a librarian who has her quiet day shattered by the appearance of Cahan, a warrior, ranting on about impending doom. At first, Alis thinks he’s crazy until a dragon comes crashing through the library, wreaking havoc and forcing Alis and Cahan to leap out of the school to avoid being burned by the monster’s flame.
They land safely, but soon find themselves blocked from entering the school by a magical barrier that an arrogant administrator will not lift to let them in until the threat of the dragon is gone. This leaves Alis and Cahan with nothing to do but try to figure out what in the world is going on. And unbeknownst to them, there is another, more dangerous threat waiting to strike.
It sounds basic, but the set-up works for such a short story. And while there are plenty of genre tropes to satisfy your fantasy itch–mystical creatures, magical spells, swordfights, and magic battles–it’s the non-genre elements that give Down the Dragon Hole it’s heft. There are bigger themes at play than dragon-hunting, themes like expanding one’s moral and intellectual horizons, fighting off extinction, and what is lawful versus what is right.
Ms. Newquist also twists some genre conventions in the forms of Alis and Cahan themselves. They embody the stereotypes of their roles while at the same time breaking free of them, making both Alis and Cahan fun characters I’d like to read more about.
They also seem to have–unless I’m misreading things–a bit of a “will they or won’t they?” relationship, which I hope gets explored more in future stories, which there will be.
All in all, I’d say give Down the Dragon Hole a try. It can be read in a short plane or train ride, but it’s a great introduction into the world that Mrs. Newquist has created. I’m looking forward to reading more.
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