Habitat • 2020 • Fantasy short story by  K. J. Parker

★★★★☆

‘Go to hell’ isn’t something you say to a prince […]. I might just get away with ‘No’, but then again, I might not. ‘Yes’ was out of the question.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m a bit deaf in one ear. Could you just say that again?”
He sighed. “I want you,” he said slowly, as if to a foreigner, “to catch me a dragon. A live one. You can do that, can’t you?”
Well, I’d bought my time. Paid through the nose for it. “Probably not,” I said.
Not what he’d been expecting to hear. “Why not?”

Synopsis:  This initial scene sets up the narrator for a clear formulated task which will bring him enough money to bring his father’s land back to live. His five years in the prince’s army left him with the knowledge how to catch a dragon, and the knowledge where one lives. As a boy, he accidentially killed one with his own hands, so, he is well acquainted with the task. Of utter importance are dragons’ breeding habits, which is a seldomly considered piece of dragon lore. 

Review:  I’m a fan of this author, having read a couple of novellas (Downfall of the Gods, Mightier than the Sword, A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong) and just recently a duology (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, and How To Rule An Empire and Get Away With It). I love his narrators’ ironical voice, his innovative ideas, and the hidden connections which don’t unfold at first glance. This short story is typical in each of those aspects, leading to an oftentimes comical relief within stressful action scenes. It is set in the author’s quasi-mediaeval European world, which is first one in the anthology set in the classic dragon environment with Western, mediaeval knights.

The story is narrated in two storylines, one for the dragon hunt, and the other telling the narrator’s past in the prince’s army, where he witnessed the careless slaughtering of thousands of soldiers for a pointless border war. 

The plot demonstrates the dirty work necessary around heroic deeds. I had a couple of good laughs at the very satisfying ending.

While being rather short, the author manages to weave in several plot twists, a perfect tension arc, a relatable protagonist, and once again validates Parker’s masterful writers capabilities.

I recommend it for fans of mediaeval Fantasy who want to read a lighter mooded story. 

Meta: isfdb. Published in the anthology The Book of Dragons.

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