Literature Commentary: The Dragon Heir

31 Aug

(Originally published February 8, 2009)

I’ve been reading this series from Cinda Williams Chima ever since I saw the first book on a display of “Lone Star Award” titles at my library. Starting off with “The Warrior Heir,” this trilogy continues with “The Wizard Heir” and culminates in this most recent installment, “The Dragon Heir.” Let’s take a closer look inside this final installment of the series:

Like many trilogy conclusions, the book relies heavily on the reader’s knowledge of the previous two installments. In Chima’s world, the wizard guilds, or “Weir” are locked in an internal power struggle just beginning to spill over into the world of the ordinary humans, or “Anaweir.” Think “wizards” and “Muggles” and you’ll basically get the idea. Several characters from previous volumes – including the warrior Jack Swift and the wizard Seph McCaulay – have starring roles, but the real story belongs to two previously minor characters.

Madison Moss is an elicitor – a human with no innate magic, but the ability to draw magic from those around her and use it against them. At the conclusion of “The Wizard Heir” she absorbed a hex meant to kill her boyfriend, Seph McCauley, and is now leaking death magic that has slowly been poisoning the man she loves. This element – the painful forced separation between Seph and Madison – is by far the strongest subplot in all three novels. The author had me really caring about their relationship and hoping for reunion. This tension is certainly the book’s most powerful and compelling element.

Roguish Jason Haley is a wizard of limited abilities who stumbles upon a powerful relic called the Dragonheart. The true power of the stone only becomes clear in the book’s final pages, but it is clear that both of the warring wizard guilds – the White Rose and the Red Rose – will stop at nothing to claim it. With the reintroduction of Jason, the author’s well-conceived story first begins to falter. Jason just doesn’t have the depth of Jack or Seph from previous installments. By trying to maintain the concurrent stories of too many individuals, Chima can’t give all of her characters the depth and complexity they deserve.

The author’s successes are uneven throughout. The main plot often becomes cryptic and unclear – partly by design, but more because of the difficulty involved in uniting the disparate elements from two previous novels. The much-anticipated “final battle” just didn’t pack the punch of the “Harry Potter” climactic fight scene.

Religion doesn’t play much of a role in Chima’s stories – and this is quite telling. The basic attitude is that religion is irrelevant at best, and cumbersome at worst. Numerous references to the Christian persecution of wizards and witches are also prevelant. While “Harry Potter” intentionally skirted the issue of religion, “The Dragon Heir” relegates faith to the back burner in favor of self-reliance and brute firepower. Although these elements are certainly nowhere near the blatant anti-Christian attacks found in many modern teen books, these themes are subtly interwoven throughout the stories.

Perhaps this is a good time to discuss the state of modern teen literature as a whole. When I walked into the “Young Adult” section of Barnes and Noble recently, I was quite unimpressed. Broadly, the teen literature market tends to capitalize overmuch on the successes of one or two authors. I cannot say how many “Twilight” “Eragon” and “Harry Potter” clones I’ve seen in recent months…all of them trying to make a fast buck by playing off current trends. Rather than creating works of true ingenuity, otherwise talented authors are crafting poor imitations of popular titles in the hopes of winning readership.

This is not how literature should be. While from an economic perspective it makes perfect sense, from a critical standpoint the trend is lamentable. As Solomon might put it, there is “nothing new under the sun.” Cinda Williams Chima’s “Heir” trilogy is little more than an imperfect “Harry Potter” imitation with a few twists. While such books might be momentarily popular, they will never attain the lasting renown granted to books of greater merit.

Chima is a good writer, and for fans of her work, “The Dragon Heir” doesn’t disappoint. As mentioned previously, the complexity of the relationship between Seph and Madison makes “The Dragon Heir” worth a read. However, I suspect that when all’s said and done, the “Heir” trilogy will simply vanish into obscurity along with all the other “Harry Potter” spinoffs out there.

Worth reading for “Harry Potter” addicts or fans of contemporary fantasy. Otherwise, skip it.

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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Fantasy


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