Cover from goodreads.com
I am always skeptical when I pick up a book. There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews. To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started. Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution. I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.
Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed. The first book is a perfect story. Tate is loud, sassy, and smart. I love following her around. Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble. She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.
The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different. In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern. Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world. Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born. Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.
Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity? Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character. She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights. Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble. I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”. The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.
I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies. I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”. I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots. And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys. T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.
To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate. Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players). But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”. The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress. Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in. Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world? Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted. Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.
Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect. There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting. Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader. She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading. It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.
Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending. While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing. I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending. For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book. Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!
Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:
1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence. Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre)
2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series. I need not know everything all at once.
3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character. This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.
4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together. Tech and magic are not exclusive.
5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending. Be confident in your characters and larger world building. People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.
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