There’s something iconic, in a niche sort of way, about a truckdriver-turned-hero. Okay, so something being both iconic and niche is probably a paradox, but anyway... I guess it’s more the idea that an average American guy who does something as everyday as driving a big rig on a redundant route can become the hero of a story. That’s what is iconic – the relatable character who’s nothing special, really. The trucker part is niche. But it’s a premise that got me interested!
I read the first two books of this series more or less over the month of December. Note my Christmas candle and the fun dragon-themed beer from a local brewery. :-)
Tucker Kenworthy (yes, even his name screams average truck driver, and if the puns in there make you shake your head and sigh, well, they probably make him do the same regarding what has seemed to be his destiny since his birth) never really wanted to drive an 18-wheeler for a living, but life circumstances more or less funneled him into it, and we begin the story with a man who does his job out of obligation. He must help support his mother, whose mental and emotional state has slipped since the death of her husband and then the injuries of her son, which have led him to follow in his father’s job rather than pursuing a dream of an athletic career. Tucker doesn’t particularly enjoy his life, but he’s not the kind of guy to balk at his responsibilities. This is one of the things I find most endearing about him as a character: he’s steady, reliable, stable, responsible. And if he’s not ambitious, well, at least he’s an all-around good guy, and ultimately, that’s a great trait to have even when it seems boring.
But Tucker’s life changes dramatically when his routine route is interrupted. He finds Ravinna, a girl on the side of the road, weak and helpless, and as he tries to help her, he is drawn into a quest to slay a dragon. Yes, the drama of the story picks up here with such an unlikely twist, and Tucker, against his normal judgment, follows her into the woods and ends up passing through a portal into another world called Aristonia.
This is what kept me reading: the combination of the two worlds. Tucker is an average American in a fantasy world. I am not typically a reader of fantasy novels—while I appreciate their role and admire the talent of the authors who write them, I often get bogged down in the foreign names and the unknown worlds until I am lost. That is why this fantasy series appeals to me: it combines reality and fantasy. Throughout the book, the story alternates between Tucker and Ravinna in Aristonia and people back in the real world who are concerned about Tucker’s disappearance.
At first, I found it hard to believe that Tucker would leave his own world so easily, without a word to his mother, his boss, or his friends. However, Ravinna is attractive to him on multiple levels, and I am left with the belief that because of her other-worldliness, she had a kind of power over him at first.
My favorite character was probably Flint, Tucker’s friend and mentor trucker, who actively searches for him. The budding romance between Flint and Karla, who is a caregiver to Tucker’s mom, was a sweet touch that served to ground Flint as a more solid person by the end of the story. For those who prefer the fantasy aspects of a story, maybe this wouldn’t be their favorite part, but I enjoyed the switching between the two worlds.
Tucker experiences much growth over the first book of this series, too. In deviating from his normal life, he discovers adventure and a greater purpose while not losing sight of the importance of his role in caring for his mother. His quest in Aristonia boosts his confidence in himself, and he and Ravinna begin to see a possible future together, although their separate worlds are going to keep that from becoming reality right now. One thing might leave the reader confused: it is never fully explained why Tucker was specifically chosen for the role of dragon-slayer from all the men in the world.
The good dragons in this book show the readers that sacrifice is more powerful than brute strength and violence. Ravinna’s strong will threatens to interfere with their plans at the end, but the Christian themes of good conquering evil come through (think Aslan’s sacrifice in the Narnia series).
One criticism I have is that the book could have been edited better to catch punctuation mistakes, but as I have continued reading further into this series, I can also say that it improves as you get into the next book.
The second book in the series, Peak Dragon Uprising, takes us to the other side of the world. A dragon named Tianshi Guang that has come through a portal into Hong Kong and has existed peacefully hidden in a mountain cavern there has begun to awake, with evil intent. Ravinna re-enters our world to find Tucker and take him to subdue the beast before Hong Kong is thrown into a panic.
This books weaves in local lore of dragons and how the people there tell the stories but don’t actually believe dragons were ever real, for the most part. The young protagonist of this book, Winnie, does believe in dragons, and she wants to befriend this one. Lacking acceptance from her parents and peers, she is easily drawn in even when the dragon’s tendencies for evil are obvious to us. Winnie is befriended by Singe, a boy whose father has power as a gang leader. Singe was one of my favorite characters. He was a true friend to Winnie, and he came across as very real to me.
In this story, we learn that Tucker’s family has had an unknown involvement with the dragons for many years. A stone found and given to his mother by Tucker is actually a blood stone from a dragon, and its powers are having a negative impact on Tucker’s mom, Nance, as the dragon regains strength and followers. This gives Tucker an even bigger reason for following Ravinna this time – conquering this dragon will restore his mother’s health, in addition to preventing the world from having an evil dragon unleashed upon it.
The conversion of Tianshi Guang from evil to good at the end of this book shows the power of love and forgiveness. Winnie’s devotion to the dragon softens her heart, and the benevolence of the good dragons in Aristonia comes through again as they heal others both physically and spiritually. Don’t think these dragons are soft pushovers, however. The themes in the book are clear that betrayals are not just forgotten and that temporal effects of sin remain, even though forgiveness and second chances are always available – but one must use one’s free will to ask for these things. I thought these themes were one of the best parts of the story.
My other favorite thing was how the reader is immersed in the setting. Most of the book takes place in Hong Kong, not Aristonia. The author’s familiarity with this location comes through in descriptions of the crowds, the architecture, the landscape, and the foods. This brought an authentic feel to the story. I am a fan of geography and setting, so this appealed to me as a reader who enjoys learning more about real places. Again, the mixture of reality with fantasy is what pulled me in, because realistic fiction is more my cup of tea.
Tucker and Ravinna’s growing romance will be met with an abruptness at the story’s end, leaving the reader wondering what will happen when book three comes out. By this point, we are left rooting for them, as we have seen how Tucker’s steadiness and reliability are a perfect balance to Ravinna’s more impulsive and take-action personality.
I was privileged to be a beta reader for Book Three, Bohemian Dragon Awakening, but I will not give anything away other than to say it is another installation in the series that combines the real world (this time set in the Czech Republic) with fantastical elements and dragon lore.