Humans and dragons – that has certainly been done before, way before How to train your dragon or even Eragon. I remember a book by german fantasy author Wolfgang Hohlbein about dragon fighters and their human risers, being published 1991. I’ve read it back then, and remember it being the second book in a series.
So why and how is Far Patrol different from other books like that?
Firstly, because dragons and humans live in synergy, without one race dominating the other. And secondly – all the other books are (high) fantasy, while Alex Powell throws us into a different setting and sub genre. Which is refreshing. And thirdly – the main plot. You wouldn’t guess it at the start (neither by looking at the description), but this is not an adventure book. This is a book about political intrigue and civil war. (We’ll come too this later.) So it’s a totally different cup of tea, and it might just be one you like.
I found the world really interesting, and it had a fresh feeling to it because of the way the dragons and their chosen interact.
So, let’s talk about plot. Our heroes apply for the Far Patrol, which apparently brings great adventure and fame, even if the borders have been secure for at least a century now. Only the best of the best are accepted.
Sadly, this book is not about adventures at the borders, despite the title. Far Patrol ends up being less than a third of the book, before it simply stops mattering. That threw me off, because like I’ve said, I was expecting something different.
While this might start to look like a grand adventure in the beginning when everyone talks about Far Patrol, it quickly turns out to be more along the lines of a rebellion and a dooming civil war. I kinda had the feeling that the plot sets out to do something different before faltering in to this story.
There are also some parts that tend to look like coming of age, and those parts could have been left out. They are not adding anything of interest to neither the story but the involved characters.
Speaking of which: I think a lot of the characters remain rather shallow, including the human part of our main protagonist. Granted, we see the story through the dragon’s eyes, which makes them more important to the story, but since they care so much about their chosen, it’s a shame that Kathely does not bring more to the table. In fact, the while human population seems to be more deco than anything else for most of the time. Fortunately, there is Jack – the proposed villain for a while, but also the most likable character.
This is the time to say a few words about gendering. This book uses gender neutral pronouns (especially for the dragons who don’t identify as male or female), and as I haven’t read many books in this style before, I was curious if this would hinder me in any way (which is a common cliche associated with those pronouns), and to make it short: no, it doesn’t.
Though I have to admit that it is kind of mildly irritating at times – when the dragon does something, it’s neither she/he and her/his, but they and them. I immediately associate those pronouns with plural and expect more than one entity to act. But to be fair – that irritation quickly fades away, and I got used to it within a few pages. That being said, I’m not sure this really adds to the story. It felt kind of forced on, for the sake of just using it. And it makes things awkward when a dragon addresses another dragon with Sir, because of military hierarchy. If dragons are neither he nor she, then they should neither be a Sir or a Maam. But that’s just my two cents.
So, finally, what have we here? To put it together:
The world is interesting and feels kind of new.
There are only a few likable characters, and a lot of really uninteresting ones. Especially the human population.
The plot is where things go south for me. I have the feeling that there are really interesting points getting lost, like the first dragon of the Lockden line being chosen for north patrol in, like, ever. There could be a story behind that – but it’s never explored. Far Patrol might be the title, but it doesn’t really matter and makes the first chapter totally irrelevant.
There are some plot points that gave me the feeling of being very constructed, breaking the inner coherence of the world just to get from A to B in the story. And I’m missing the dilemma parts of the plot points, which too often fall flat. There’s no drama there that makes me feel for our protagonist. Major spoiler: Even when our group of heroes are found out by Ignius’s cousin to gather sympathies with the rebels, they don’t really act. A decisive act of violence in this situation was all that would have been needed to bring the group over to the other side. It would have meant something. Like I said, the way this resolves, there is no drama.
There are some minor points that feel not right, like the prison bars used to jail a dragon melting by the dragon’s breath. And what’s the sense of having a secret police if they harbour their own very recognizable logo? I get the nazi reference, by the way, but I find this lacking in coherence and logic. Don’t call it secret if you are going to portray it, call it the special police instead.
All in all, I rate this book a solid 5 out 10, or 2.5 out of 5. The fate of our heroes left me mostly cold, especially the human ones.