SHORT STORY REVIEW: The Dragon of Borvoli- by Mark Lord

It takes a lot of bravery to fight a dragon. So imagine how brave the nine year old Boult is when he takes his father’s sword and enters the barrow near his home where tales say the dragon lives—the dragon that has been terrorising their village.

Yet not all is as it seems in this atmospheric historical fantasy short story. Boult meets Gustinus, a Christian priest, who promises to help him in his quest to slay the dragon. But Boult discovers that men can be worse monsters than creatures of legend.

The Dragon of a Borvoli does exactly what it says on the tin. Boy in Tolkein style medieval fantasy world goes on a quest to face a dragon, save a damsel and come of age (seriously, why is most of the fantasy genre set in ‘medieval Europe with dragons’ land? You can create any world you want- why always this one?). I have to admit, I was disappointed. The line ‘Yet not all is as it seems ‘implicated that there was going to be more to it and there was going to be some kind of twist. There really wasn’t. The closest thing this book had to a twist was that it had Vikings as well as dragons. Then it goes from rescuing the damsel to more abuse of the damsel so Boult can have some man pain.

Female comic book writer Gail Simone coined the term ‘fridging’ to highlight the sheer amount of women in fiction being tormented to forward a male character’s development or to give him a reason to angst. The Dragon of Borvoli is a typical example of this, as Boult’s mother exists as nothing more than a disposable tool who is humiliated and disposed of in order to forward his development.

The time period is not an excuse for this trope either. I know it’s the medieval period, but even in a time period which was not kind to females, women still did more than get kidnapped, raped and killed for the sole purpose of forwarding men’s development. Look at the women of The Cousin’s War (The Wars of the Roses), especially Margaret Beauford. She was a scared young girl who entered an arranged marriage at twelve but she became an important figure in the conflict, and her son’s later reign.

And as for the rest of medieval fantasy, look at A Song Of Ice And Fire; that’s set in a mysogynistic medieval world, but even the women who couldn’t fight or control dragons (the Tyrell women and Lady Stark for example) were treated as active, interesting and capable agents who were characters not tools. Honestly, I am sick of this tired, lazy trope and it did not endear me to this story.

But as much as I have criticised it for being derivative, and it’s terrible treatment of women, I have to review this story fairly and I cannot say it is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It managed to condense a whole quest into only 15 pages without leaving the story feeling lacking or rushed. It did rely on very, very convenient coincidences to move the plot forward, but considering its length this was understandable. The way it managed to tell a fully-fledged, self-contained story in that length was a very impressive feat.

Its success at world building also needs to be praised. It can be difficult to create a realised fantasy world in a short story, but the world building does not feel lacking here. This is partially to do with the fact that this is a world we’ve seen a hundred times before, but that’s not completely it. It also works because we’re viewing the world through the eyes of a child who is new to the world, and we learn as he learns. He is also so single minded in his quest to save his mother, so the focus is narrowed from the events of the wider world to just his mission, which was a good thing for the story.

The dialogue at the end did feel a bit choppy, as if Lord was reaching the end of his word count and was running out of steam, but as far as short stories go everything felt more wrapped up than they usually are.

In short, this is a decent quest story even if it is very, very derivative. If you just fancy a quick read with Vikings and Dragons, and can stomach its bad treatment of women, then it is an enjoyable, quick read.For its atmosphere alone and the fact that dragon attacks are cool, I award this book…

3 ‘Sons of a murdered mother, husbands of a murdered wife, who WILL have their revenge’/ 5

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