I’d bet that early colonists were surprised, even frightened, by some of the strange new creatures America had to offer. But I’m sure nothing surprised them more than seeing dragons soaring overhead. Wait, you never heard about the dragons? Looks like schools just don’t seem to teach anything really important nowadays. Or maybe that’s because dragons don’t exist in the history we know. But what if they did? Well, they’d probably be pretty close to what Mike Resnick describes in Dragon America.
This book takes readers back to The War of Independence. George Washington isn’t having much luck fighting the British, and with food, blankets and even clothing in short supply, victory seems unlikely. So General Washington sends Daniel Boone out to the west, in the hope that Daniel’s ties to the Shawnee Tribe will secure brave warriors willing to fight for America’s freedom. Daniel finds plenty of warriors, but stories of gigantic dragons bigger than any dragons colonists are used to seeing have him considering other types of warfare. However, even though dragons of all sizes are commonplace, these huge creatures sound too good to be true. And if they truly exist, how does one go about training a dragon?
There’s enough historical accuracy in this book to make it interesting. Daniel Boone’s capture by the Shawnee and adoption by Chief Blackfish is historical fact. The character of Pompey, Blackfish’s translator, is also based on a real-life person. Liberties are taken, of course, otherwise this book would be just another piece of historical nonfiction. And where’s the fun in that?
Mr. Resnick also fleshes out his non-human characters. There are several types of dragons, each with their own methods of travel — some don’t even fly — and their own way of dealing with humans. As with the historical facts that make up the backbone of this story, readers are not weighted down with biological or genetic facts, but given enough information to bring these creatures to life.
The tone of this book feels less like Pern and more like Jurassic Park. Considering this book is set in an alternate history, that’s a good thing. AU books should feel like historical fiction, with a certain difference that’s the reason for the story. I’d place this beside Harry Turtledove’s fiction, especially his Great War series.
This book flies by, with chapters that tell the tale from different personal vantage points. That keeps the narrative fresh, and moves the story along; I was surprised at how quickly the 258 pages came to an end. The epilogue ties things up efficiently, and teases readers with the possibilities of more stories about how dragons helped form the United States of America.
The cover art looks like a tinted sepia photograph, with shadowy dragons looming overhead as if the troops are shooting more than soldiers. George Washington looms large, but what stood out for me was the book’s spine; a twist on the Great Seal of the United States, with a dragon in place of the eagle, separates the title from the author. Simple, but striking. And it made me think about what our motto would be if dragons really did roam the Americas. In Dragons We Trust? Or maybe E Pluribus Draco? Perhaps Resnick will let us know in future volumes.
(Phobos Impact, 2005)