I've finally plowed through the five extant Wings of Fire books. Immediately upon reading the synopsis on the back as well as seeing the Nightwing's Guide illustrations at the front, I knew that it would inevitably have a fandom. Probably a large one, if the books were well written.
And they are. I would compare the tone at times to Laurence Yep's Dragon of the Lost Sea series, another childhood favorite. I've seen other series like Warriors that gave me a similar impression based purely on the synopsis, and I simply passed those over. I generally don't have much time to read these days. However, I decided to give these a chance largely because I was intrigued by the illustrations. They were cartoonish without being cartoony or insipidly childish, nor were they intimidatingly elaborate commissioned paintings like most fantasy fare- say, anything illustrated by Todd Lockwood or Michael Whelan. No, these had the look of a professional graphic artist or comic artist that had clearly read the books and understood the author's vision. And the art was all crisp, precise lines that beautifully showcased form and feature without overwhelming the viewer in detail. These were books that looked like they would treat their readers seriously. I fell in love with the art, and finally found time to read them all this week, after work and between calls now that things have slowed down to normal.
Yes, the plot was predictable at times, but the impending twists and turns weren't foreshadowed heavily enough to ruin them early on. And it was complex enough that it encouraged the reader to think critically. Its characters were beautifully complex. I was eagerly awaiting each book once I realized they were each narrated by a different character. I hadn't really seen that since Animorphs, and unlike those books, these don't appear to be soured by inept ghostwriters.
The ships are undoubtedly a touchy subject, though I do like the open-endedness and that the author doesn't shove particular pairings down our throat. I see working relationships in progress. I see flesh and blood characters. Sunny is probably the dragonet closest to my heart.
While some villains come across as two dimensional, I would say that hardly a single antagonist in this series is wholly evil, if any. At the very least, nearly all of them are sympathetic, if not fully justified in their actions. Unlike other series like Harry Potter, no singular clan is wholly evil. I was so disappointed that Rowling painted such a black and white picture, where the only "good" Slytherin characters were dead before the series starts or incredibly mean-spirited. I don't like that there weren't really any Gryffindors that didn't stand firmly in the good guys' corner. People are complex and don't always fit neatly into categories.
I feel that most of the stereotypes of each dragon clan are a result of cultural influence and upbringing, all perpetuated because the Nightwings were firmly in control of the world's written lore. The dragons label themselves and strive to fit those labels because their societies encourage it. The war and subsequent alliances are portrayed as terrible, but it actually broke the ground for the main five to unite Pyrrhia without unnecessary bloodshed. If the clans had all been keeping to themselves and shunning outsiders, it would have been impossible. But the war forced tribes expand their own horizons and form unique relationships with outsiders. I imagine the Pyrrhia before Queen Oasis's murder was a very different place. No single tribe is portrayed as wholly evil for simply existing. The dragonets who grew up outside of the tribes have vastly different values and ideas and morality, showing that the cruelty of Nightwings or the laziness of Rainwings are entirely learned behaviors, influenced by culture and environment and upbringing. Even within the very heart of the cruelest of kingdoms, one can find strength or open-mindedness when least expected. Like real people, each dragon is wholly capable of both good and evil, no matter its tribe.
The great good force our heroes had believed in is shown to be cold and calculating and cruel. No single tribe in the war is shown to be malicious. Each side is shown to be fighting for good reasons, and not always willingly. Instead of presented with a clear cut war between good and evil, we are shown a war where the great good is a lie, all sides are made up of good people who are forced to choose between the lesser of three evils that lead them. Or... two evils and one incompetent figurehead. There is no clear cut right answer from the start. There is no battle of good and evil. There is only battle, and clashing of ideals, as each side hopes to end the killing and come up with a solution they can all live with in the aftermath.
And the heroes take a third option. It's a strong message to readers, emphasizing the importance of thinking outside the box and finding a way, the right way, even if it isn't always obvious. Our heroes suffer losses and are forced to grow and learn. But unlike so many other books of this nature, this is all accomplished without an inevitable bloodbath at the end. Brian Jacques, I'm looking at you. This isn't like Redwall. A book doesn't need to tear your heart to pieces to paint a realistic conflict. The war on Pyrrhia ends with no pyrrhic victory needed.
That said, have some art.