By Alexander Wallace
The American Revolution has become a legend for the United States, as wars of national liberation have become for many nations the world over. In some sense, that war was the first of such wars as we understand them today; we often forget that what happened in America was the inspiration for many similar movements in Europe and Latin America. In that sense, it is a legend that has begotten many legends.
So it feels almost natural that some people may want to combine a historical legend with mythological legends. Assassin’s Creed III added the Assassins and the Templars, to name but one example. Here, I shall discuss another example: Mike Resnick’s Dragon America.
It was through sheer luck that I found Dragon America in a local library’s science fiction and fantasy section; I had already had a positive impression of Mike Resnick’s work through reading anthologies, specifically the Alternate Generals series (edited by Harry Turtledove) and Old Mars (edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois - an anthology, I will note, that has one of the best introductions to any anthology I’ve ever read). Seeing his name on an alternate history fantasy caught my eye immediately.
The concept of Dragon America is very simple, “exactly what it says on the tin” as TVTropes likes to say. It is a world where various species of dragon are endemic to the North American continent, and can be trained like horses or other beasts of burden. Some of them serve in battle alongside indigenous peoples and colonists alike. It is in this supernatural environment that our world’s American Revolution is raging, as shot and shell join dragon’s breath in what George Washington called “the glorious cause.”
George Washington is one of the two historical figures around whom the plot revolves; the other is Daniel Boone. As General Washington leads a losing battle against the British regulars, he dispatches Boone on a mission of great importance: to find a way to employ the dragons in this terrible war. Boone goes with a small party to the Ohio Country, where he has to wrangle with the hostility of the land and the complex politics of the indigenous nations that live there.
The way Resnick treats the dragons deserves some discussion; he goes about explaining how their behavior and their biology and their place in the local ecology in a way that, had they been aliens and not dragons, would not be out of place in a hard science fiction novel. Those who like xenobiology and interesting creatures in their science fiction and fantasy will find a pleasing little nugget in this rather short book.
The book also succeeds in getting across the stakes of Boone’s mission; Resnick will never let you forget that the patriot cause is within a hair of being defeated. The patriot army is a ragtag one, facing foes who “knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.” In this sense, this book is a political and war thriller extraordinaire with a supernatural element. This is furthered along by Resnick’s spectacular action sequences that jolt the plot along from battle to battle.
Dragon America was a pleasant surprise, speaking as someone who had never heard of it before finding it in a library. Its Amazon page compares it to Orson Scott Card or Harry Turtledove: I haven’t read much Card, but I can absolutely see how this is similar to that older sort of military alternate history and science fiction that I very much like (it’s something of a vague category; Jerry Pournelle also has that feeling despite his work being pure science fiction. In purer alternate history, Eric Flint and John Birmingham have that feeling too). Those looking for a good war story will be well-serviced here.