In Skargakar, dragons are a way of life. Their uses are endless: food, clothing, weapons, pets, etc. They are so essential to the community that people called drachenjagers build giant airships to hunt them in the Cloudmere – a vast area above the clouds where dragons preside. It is a dangerous job, but the successful dragon hunters are awarded with fame and fortune.
Lian is the son of a well-known (and now retired) drachenjager, though his father never really talks about his exploits. He has never really considered getting into the business himself, as he maintains a decent life carving kyrillian crystals which are used to power the airships. One day Lian finds himself in a bit of trouble and has to leave town immediately. His life depends on it. So, he boards the next airship headed for the Cloudmere and decides to try his hand at dragon hunting. It is better than staying and being hunted himself.
It does not take long for Lian to regret his decision, as it turns out the captain of the ship is an extremist. He has one goal in mind: revenge. He has been searching the depths of the Cloudmere to find the ancient Gargantuan, a Black Leviathan that destroyed his crew (one of which was his wife) decades ago.
Lian finds himself caught on a wild ride through the Cloudmere. In the adventure of a lifetime he visits other worlds, meets new peoples, and hunts dragons. Will they find the Black Leviathan and live to tell the tale? Lian’s fate depends on it.
If you like dragons, Black Leviathan is the book for you. It is the most atmospheric story about the giant beasts I have ever encountered (though The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood has something to say about that), and it starts with the cover. It features a giant, indigo-colored dragon enormously looming over a pint-sized person (by comparison), who I think it is safe to assume is Lian (the main character). The dragon’s menacing demeanor in this scene foreshadowing a confrontation drew me in immediately, and it really set the mood for the rest of the book. If you know me, you know how important covers are to me. When I begin reading a book the depiction on the cover sticks with me throughout, and it can mean the difference between merely enjoying the story and being engrossed in it. Black Leviathan‘s cover effectively accomplishes this task.
The encompassing ambiance does not stop there. Dragons are present throughout every part of the story. Dragon meat is sold in the market, dragon scales are used as armor and to protect ships, bones are used in building, skin for clothes, teeth and claw as weapons. Even commerce is dragon-based. The best dragon hunters are idolized and have the opportunity to return from their hunts with rare and valuable items that have the potential to make them rich. Lian works in a shop grinding kyrillian crystals, which contain magic that allow the airships to float. Dragons literally permeate the pores of society until they are dripping in dragon sweat. And I am so here for it.
The author is incredibly descriptive, as well. From Skargakar to the other stops the dragon hunters make, I could picture every building and stone on the street. I envision myself on an airship, the clouds below me, sky above, overcome with tension and fear and excitement at the prospect of running into a dragon. I was immersed in this world, and, honestly, I never wanted to leave.
The character set was really great, too, if a little trope-y. That is not a negative thing, as sometimes authors use the familiar to give the reader something to hold on to when venturing into new and distinctive places. Lian plays the role of the green rookie, learning on the job, running from his problems. There is a cranky, singularly-focused captain with a commander who has to talk him off the ledge constantly. The has an old friend on the ship who he has known most of his life, and they survived the last Gargantuan attack together. It is a recognizable crew, one you might find in any story about a ship – air, water, or otherwise.
I would have liked to see a little more story development in certain areas. For instance, en route to the Cloudmere the ship makes a stop in another city. This would have been a great opportunity for a fun, character building side adventure; instead, the author hints at an exploit, but then Lian and his friend have kind of a boring night and ship back out first thing in the morning. The other aspect of the story I would have loved to have had more of was history. As a reader, I could tell there is so much more to the past than we see in this book. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I wish the author would have jumped a little further into the deep end.
Overall, I absolutely loved Black Leviathan. It is immersive, unique, and incredibly satisfying. I would compare it to The Bone Ships meets How to Train Your Dragon (though not in a Young Adult way). Highly recommended for all fantasy readers, and even more highly recommend for dragon lovers.