Monday, 19 January 2015

Of Dragons and Helicopters: Fantasy and Metaphor

I recently read a military fantasy novel called "Of Bone and Thunder," in which soldiers from a powerful nation called the Kingdom are sent to a jungle to hunt down and destroy an elusive peasant insurgency.

There's plenty of supernatural elements - for example, and the Kingdom uses dragons as transportation and to attack the insurgents, much like our modern military uses helicopters. But despite the high fantasy trappings, for most of the novel's protagonists it's about trying to survive a bitter, pointless war, slogging through humid jungles to chase an invisible enemy.

It's a well-written novel, with sharp, descriptive prose that quickly sweeps the reader along with it. The writer is adept at putting the reader in the boots of Kingdom soldiers, making us feel every detail of their world – the sleep loss, the heat, the dull tedium.

But despite strong writing, I couldn’t really get into this novel. Why? Because it's not a fantasy novel at all - it's a Vietnam War novel.

And I don’t mean that metaphorically – "Of Bone and Thunder" has dragons instead of helicopters and crossbows instead of rifles, but that's about as deep as the changes run.