Return of the Dragonriders

DragonBirth, and to an extent the entire Return of the Dragonriders Trilogy, is my first work – or at least, the first of my works to be published. I started writing DragonBirth when I was thirteen, and I was half-way through DragonWing when I was fourteen. But there are a lot of ways that DragonBirth goes back even further than that.
Return of the Dragonriders by Raina Nightingale, fantasy trilogy, illustrated omnibus edition: DragonBirth, DragonWing, DragonSword. In a world where dragons are hated and feared, a young villager's life is changed forever when she meets a dragon hatchling. A red-winged black dragon flying upwards out of an overflowing volcanic lake.

For a long time, I had been writing dragonrider stories – ever since I was introduced to the Harper Hall Trilogy by Anne MacCaffrey, in fact, though that was only shortly after I suddenly became able to read most anything for myself, so I think it was only a matter of time, since my art shows a fascination with dragons and volcanoes that must have gone back almost to when I was a toddler! For some reason, I was obsessed with albinos and with weakling things that might have been outcast but instead found a loving companion and home, and after writing a few things that can hardly be considered as other than fan fiction (though for an eight year old, they were probably quite original; I apparently had already developed the dragon keeper/dragon-mother idea), I settled on a staple of stories about girls who bonded to albino hatchlings. They weren’t the only thing I wrote, but they constantly recurred.

At first, they showed a strong Tolkeinesque inspiration – they were not anything like his stories, but the influence definitely showed, and in more than a reference here or there to a monster that had similar appearance and/or habitation. Not that I liked Tolkein that much, but the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion were, along with some of Anne MacCaffrey’s stories, some of the first things I got my hands – or eyes, rather – on, that were not, well, little kid books. Some of the early ones were absolutely epic, involving towers and wars among the gods and who knows what else, new races springing up, the fate of worlds and who-knows-what in the balance. The backgrounds of the main character varied a lot, too. Some of them were candidates presented to the dragon eggs, and for some reason the albino egg hatched for them. Some of them were servants who found the albino egg squirreled away in some hidden spot. At first, the albino dragon was usually female. One of them was almost nothing other than a “Slice of Life” compilation of various events in the life of a woman and her female albino dragon, richly illustrated by my own hand in a notebook. Chapters about her struggles within the dragonrider community, chapters about how she learned to be a mage and made her mage staff, chapters about political intrigues and distaste for her albino female turning bloody, chapters about how she tried to take care of the dragon as well as she could, and so forth. That was one of the latter ones, as might be evidenced by how very far from epic it was.

The one I have most nostalgia for came, I think, shortly afterward, also richly illustrated. It had a coherent narrative and plot, and the dragon was male. I think both the girl and the dragon had the names that were there to stay: Silmavalien and Minth. This one was probably even tamer than the last: Silmavalien found Minth, newly-hatched, in a thicket while gathering herbs. She fell in love with him and they bonded, and she brought him back to the village. The village was generally supportive, in as far as one can expect from people occupied with their own lives and the struggle to survive. Silmavalien does her best to pull her weight and take care of Minth, and she enjoys nothing more than his companionship, but that is mostly reserved for his constant presence in her mind, and hers in his, since her life is occupied with so much work. After all, she can’t slack off if she is asking others to support a growing, hatchling dragon! In the end, it becomes evident that Minth is sickly, that his health is degenerating, and that no one in the village knows what to do about it. They get together, and decide to send Silmavalien and Minth off to a city that might have someone that can help them. That is where book one ended, and I never got around to writing book two.

Instead, I came across some stuff about plate tectonics involving the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Owens Valley in North America, and about the climates, flora, and fauna themselves. My magic-saturated imagination took the information, enriched, altered, and enhanced it until some of it was scarcely recognizable, and embellished that with yet other images and places sprung, most often, from the seed of a single word or phrase left to grow in the fertile ground of my imagination. Other things were left largely untouched, earthy and mundane and as magical as the wildernesses of nature on this earth. The Greater Aravin Mountains and some of the vistas either nearby or within the mountain ranges were born, and with them a world, which eventually came to be called Areaer. At this point, I have a solar system with one uninhabitable rocky planet, two habitable earthlike planets, two asteroid belts, two gas giants, and maybe a few other marvels farther out.

Even as this setting gestated, the story of Silmavalien and Minth came to rest in it. In a way, this new story bound together all the earlier ones, from the most epic, to the most chaotic “slice of life” ones. I was frustrated by how much a lot of fantasy novels gloss over the mundane, repetitive, and hard aspects of life, that are yet so formative, coming day after day after day, and by how often as the novels progress, the initial closeness to the life, struggles, and feelings of the characters is lost. I endeavored, in DragonBirth and its subsequent novels, to write something that did not have those – to my mind – flaws, to show the everyday life of the protagonist, to show those mundane, repetitive struggles, the things that happen in them, how much a part of life and who we are those things are, and to show it all transformed by the unutterable bond between dragon and rider. To me, the two complement each other. Everyday struggles are so much of a life, of a relationship. How one responds to the struggles and irritations of life, day after day, how one responds to the demands of life, how one dedicates oneself to caring for and loving those whom one loves and who need one, all these are what relationships are not perhaps made of, but certainly what they take form in. The body to the soul. The soil in which the tree grows. The tree’s environment, from climate to soil, is a lot of what it is and shows us what it is made of.

DragonBirth shows mostly the “Slice of Life” elements. It shows Silmavalien living her life in Treas before she bonds to Minth, her religion and devotion, a tiny glimpse of the dynamics in her household, her relationship with Noren, her engaged who is teaching her to hunt, and then it shows what happens to her life and feelings when she discovers that her religion is a horrendous lie and that her entire world is hostile to what she is now and her new best friend. There are hints of epic stakes, but they are no more than isolated hints, usually forgotten, as Silmavalien struggles to survive, works through her feelings and beliefs, tries to do her best taking care of and protecting Minth, and develops and enjoys her relationship with him.

DragonWing is only a little less “Slice of Life.” It introduces Noren, newly bonded to the dragon Elninya, as another main character, with not even the hint of world-encompassing stakes in his story. The focus is on his personal struggles, his relationship with Elninya, and his search for Silmavalien – where she is not. Meanwhile, there are increasing hints of the epic in Silmavalien’s life, and a few scenes that show the powers within and beyond the world taking an interest, but the focus is on her relationship with her dragons, her fears and struggles and guilt, her joys and interests and thoughts, how the struggle to survive slowly changes as the dragons mature and eventually become the ones providing for her with far less effort than it ever took her to take care of them, and her love-at-first-sight platonic friendship with Keya, with whom she does not even share a common language at first!

Half-way through writing DragonWing I abandoned the series for about five years. I’m not sure if I was a bit more of a plotter then than now, but about five years later, I picked up the series again on inspiration and wrote the latter half of DragonWing and DragonSword in a month or two – the story had lived and taken flesh in my mind half a decade earlier. It was not so much as if I plotted it, but as if I had read it, and now I had only to write what I had read – or seen as if in a movie, though I don’t like and can’t pay attention to any movies except the ones in my head!

In DragonSword, the epic stakes finally become apparent. I strove to keep the down-to-earth feel of the earlier books, the attention to the everyday life and struggles of the characters, even while the setting becomes far more overtly magical, and the epic stakes are clearly revealed and sweep the characters up into them. Or maybe the characters walk into them. I have a hard time telling. I tend to create situations in which the notion of the “reluctant hero” is irrelevant. Silmavalien and Noren, finally re-united, have to work through how they feel about each other and what their relationship with each other is now, after five years of separation and a lot happening with both of them, while they train and prepare for the battle they both know that they cannot escape, and come to terms, each in their own way, with the fact that one or both of them could very well die – and what happens if they, or the Ellenari, fail? Marvels of magic and beauty surround them, as the Nightmare spreads its terrifying wings, shattering and burning the world, battling the protagonists and their allies at almost every turn, and preparing for its final confrontation in its bid to destroy life in its withering presence.

I won’t say anything about genre, since I tend to find genre more constraining than it is enlightening. If this has piqued your interest in any way, but you would like to see more, you can check out the other resources and excerpts from the Return of the Dragonriders on my site, most of them linked on this page!

Get the Entire Trilogy in One Volume! (Includes extras, like an exclusive short story and illustrations)

Buy Book One, DragonBirth

Buy Book Two, DragonWing

Buy Book Three, DragonSword

Return of the Dragonriders Art

And here is a little extra for you!

9 thoughts on “Return of the Dragonriders

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