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Book Review

Book Cover

The Ballad of Sir Benfro


Author: J.D. Oswald
Publisher: Penguin
RRP: £7.99
Publication Date: 14 August 2014

On one particular stormy night, Father Gideon makes his way to the dragon healer’s house carrying the princess Lleyn, heavy with child. Morgwm power is great, but not great enough to save the woman, however her child is born at the same time as Morgwm’s own child hatches, two new lives which must remain hidden from the wider world, but whose destinies will forever be entwined...

Dreamwalker (2014. 408 pages) is a fantasy novel from J D Oswald. The book is the first in a fantasy series entitled The Ballad of Sir Benfro. The second and third novels, The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage are also available. Oswald is better known for his series of Inspector McLean detective novels.

Both Errol and the dragon hatchling, Benfro grow up ignorant of each other’s existence, but joined through the world of men. An uneasy truce has existed for three generations between men and the dragons, but over that time humans have tried to impose their own restrictions of dragon society.

The present ailing king keeps faith with the dragons as had his father and grandfather refusing to allow hunters or the band of warrior monks to kill dragons for the crystals grown in their heads - crystals which contain the power and knowledge of the very long lived creatures. With his passing both the world of men and dragons feels that this truce will be at an end, as an evil queen comes into her power.

Both the humans and dragons are able to utilise magic, via the Grym. The Grym stands somewhere between Lay lines in that they are seen as discreet pathways and The Force as a power that flows through all living things. Being the first of a trilogy we spend a great deal of time with either Errol or Benfro as they grow, this allows the author to world build and occasional forays into the world of men completes a picture of this world's social order and points of conflict.

One of the things which I found disappointing about the book was the depiction of the Dragon society and the descriptions of the creatures. Presumably, from the book’s cover illustrations we are to take it that these are dragons in the traditional sense, indeed Oswald describes their wings and scales, but their mode of behaviour is almost indistinguishable from that of the humans and it is often difficult to imagine that they are of a different scale to the humans.

The dragons live in a village; hunt with bows and without the occasional nod to the fact that they are different creatures, their whole social set up seems to mirror that of the humans. This is a great shame as, rather than presenting a clash of dissimilar cultures, the main social friction in the book come between two very similar cultures. I would have preferred that the dragon culture had elements like the thought gems within which dragons store their memories.

Although well written, there is much here that is over familiar. The pseudo- medieval setting with a social order of peasants and royalty. The idea of a young man growing up unaware of either his potential power or destiny, which pretty much hold for both Errol and Benfro, both of whom have encounters with dead dragons via the crystals, which influence their paths through life.

Linguistically, the writing for the most part is pretty straightforward, apart from many of the names given to people and places, but even here they are not so bizarre as to pull you out of the story.

Whilst there is little unique about the plot or concepts found in the novel, both young protagonists are interesting enough to hold your attention, leaving the book a comfortable, if unchallenging, read.


Charles Packer

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