Dragons Wild is Robert Asprin’s return to solo writing after a long run of co-authored books and marks the beginning of a new humorous fantasy series from the author of the Myth and Phule’s Company books. Though his best work is now nearly twenty years old and many of his recent efforts have been uneven (and that’s being generous), Dragons Wild shows glimmers of Asprin’s previous talent. Whether the rest of the series can build on that remains to be seen, but Dragons Wild functions as an acceptable book on its own and sets up a world that has a great deal of potential.
Griffen McCandles has what you might call a genetic disorder: he’s a dragon. After living the first twenty years of his life in blissful ignorance of this fact he is let in on the secret during a job interview with his uncle Mal. It seems that his entire family is of dragon blood, and they are far from alone; dragon society functions as an Illuminati of sorts, living secretly among humans but exercising their supernatural powers to gain power and wealth. Needless to say, the job interview is not exactly for the position Griffen thought it was for. Mal really does want to recruit him though, since not only is Griffen a dragon but, as the son of two (murdered) purebloods, he is likely to be among the most powerful dragons alive once his abilities fully develop.
Mal is not the only dragon who wants to gain the support of Griffen and his younger sister Valerie. The various draconic power blocs all show their interest in different ways; some are content to observe from afar, while others take a more…active role in their lives. The latter group quickly drives Griffen and Valerie out of their current lives and into hiding with a group of lesser dragons in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where the pair quickly rise to leadership in the dragons’ underground gambling operation. Given their powers though, this relatively low-profile life cannot last for long, and the local police are the least of their problems.
I should probably start out by saying that I am a die-hard Robert Asprin fan. This isn’t necessarily a sign of intelligence on my part, to be honest; I said that his best work was written twenty years ago, and with the exception of the first two Phule books, nearly everything he’s published since then have been somewhere between mediocre and horrible. But I’ve bought and read them nonetheless based on the quality of the early Myth books, which I read and reread until the covers literally fell off…and then bought new copies, which I read until they also fell apart. Luckily, I had pretty much memorized them by that point, so missing pages were no big deal.
Yeah, I lived what you might call a solitary childhood.
But the point is that I’ve suffered through a lot of books where it seemed like Asprin had completely lost not only his wit and talent but, in some cases, his most basic writing skills. Dragons Wild is certainly not back to the level of the pre-M.Y.T.H. Inc Link books, but it is a step up from anything else he’s written in fifteen years. There are still some fairly large flaws–the first few chapters are as ham-fisted an attempt at introducing characters and setting as you’ll ever read–but Asprin’s wit starts to come through despite those problems.
Griffen and Valerie are both interesting characters, and the supporting cast certainly adds a lot of flavor. Cajun, to be specific…Asprin fell in love with New Orleans many years ago, and that props up large sections of the book. In fact, anybody with an exacto knife and a photocopier could make a pretty good tour guide of the French Quarter out of Dragons Wild. This is not always a good thing as the descriptions often don’t add anything to the book, but they do occasionally provide a space for Asprin to riff, which he does well.
Dragons Wild is not a return to glory for Asprin, but it at least is an indication that he is not as far gone as he has often seemed lately. Whether it is worth reading will probably depend on how future books in the series pan out; the potential is there, but whether Asprin can continue to regain his ability to execute that potential is yet to be determined.