Marjorie B. Kellogg,
The Dragon Quartet #4:
The Book of Air

(DAW, 2003)

The Book of Air is the fourth and final novel in Marjorie B. Kellogg's wonderful Dragon Quartet, and while the ending to this saga may not delight all readers, I found it a fitting end that somewhat defied my expectations (and that is almost always a good thing). Readers had to wait three years between the third and fourth novels, and the buildup of expectation this caused may have been a factor in the disappointment some fans seemed to feel with this concluding volume. Certainly, things did not really go the way I wanted them to, a couple of plot points seemed a tad clumsy and the dragon Air defied the very idea of dragonhood on a primal level -- but this shows the courage of the writer. Kellogg let this novel go where the story led her, and while readers are of course the very business of writers (successful ones, anyway), I believe it is more important to place your trust in the story and not in reader expectations. Thus, what some see as the weaknesses in the novel strike me as strengths.

This whole story started long ago -- at the very creation of the world, in fact. Four elemental dragons (Earth, Water, Fire and Air) were brought into being in order to create the world; their job complete, they went to ground to wait for the end of that world. Something has gone wrong, however, and the dragons have awoken early. Separated by centuries, responding to a summons they can not identify, called to a quest they do not understand and seeking to find each other as the process of remembering begins, they locate their dragon guides and head toward a shared fate that will determine not only the future of mankind but the past as well. Each book formally introduces us to a new dragon, and now we finally get to meet Air, the most important of the dragons, the one who can supposedly answer all of the questions the other dragons (and we the readers) have about their all-encompassing purpose.

Earth awoke in the Germanies of 913, where he met up with 14-year-old Erde as she escaped the castle of her baron father and false charges of witchcraft by an evil, powerful priest; Water appeared on the coast of Africa in 2013 and bonded with N'Doch, a rather troublesome young man with big dreams and a talent for singing; Fire resides in 2213, where he reigns as a god, installing his dragon guide Paia as his high priestess; and Air is missing, reportedly imprisoned by Lord Fire. Fire, you see, wants nothing to do with this big quest his younger siblings are following. He is in rebellion against his siblings, and this sets the stage for the exciting action of The Book of Air. The reader eventually finds himself in a future world that is both real and unreal, but the story comes back full circle to where it all began. The fate of each character and of the earth itself is a mystery until the very end, and while the ending did not satisfy my own personal desires, it works quite well in my opinion.

The real strength of this novel is the wonderful characterization Kellogg brings to the fore. I am especially fond of young Erde, with whom we have journeyed since the start of the first book, but even the minor players in this grand drama have a real force and personality that comes shining (or burning, in some cases) through the pages. The different gifts of each dragon make them -- well, three of them, anyway, for Air is unlike any dragon you would ever imagine, a fact that bothers some fans of the series -- incredibly distinct and oftentimes amazingly human characters in their own right. The Book of Air represents the end of an ambitious series, and I think Kellogg pulled it off quite well -- even managing to throw in a pretty big twist I was not expecting at the very end.

The theme of environmentalism runs strongly through all four of these novels, particularly this final one. Nature has gone haywire in each respective era, and the future has revealed an Earth burning up and dying as a result of man's failure to serve as nature's caretaker. Those with a passion for environmentalism have an extra incentive to read The Book of Air and its three predecessors.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 21 August 2004

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