Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls

by Jane Lindskold
Avon, pb, 220 pages, $4.99
ISBN: 0-380-77527-1

Lindskold's characters are wonderful. This not-quite-long-enough novel is worth reading for the outsiders it brings to life, from its madwoman protagonist to the wolfpack of orphans and homeless who befriend her. The plot, especially the ending, could use some thickening, but the writing is vibrant (first person, single point of view--a nice change in a fantasy novel).

Beautiful, blonde-haired Sarah has been institutionalized all her life--until she is forced onto the streets by budget cutbacks. Her only friend is a two-headed plastic dragon from which she is inseparable, and which only she believes can communicate (she names the heads "Betwixt" and "Between"). Although she can think clearly, Sarah can formulate no words of her own; she can communicate only by repeating back literary quotes that she has heard (read to her by an English professor recovering from a breakdown). The effect is eerie and haunting at the same time.

The decaying city she is released into is a familiar cyberpunk-clone, and within the urban wreckage she is taken in by a pack of (mostly) youths who have banded together for protection, taking as their bible Kipling's The Jungle Book. What they do is not unpredictable, but the interactions make for delicious reading nonetheless. Fantasy this dependent on literary allusion shouldn't work, but Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls does. Largely its success is based on Lindskold's fine use of quotes, which contribute to her story without distracting from it, and to her deft touch at characterization.

There was something really sweet and affecting about this book, even though it was deeply flawed as a novel. It's tied up in my mind with Roger Zelazny's death: Lindskold was his companion and protege in his last years (though his sickness was a pretty closely guarded secret), and he nurtured something special in her as a writer. I never met Zelazny in person, but he went out of his way to help me early in my career, even in the limited contact we had. He was a true gentleman, and someone dearly missed in the field... and my impression is that he saw Lindskold as his literary heir.

First appeared in Horror magazine, April 1994.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman