Author: John A. Pretorius
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Another derelict-meets-dragon tale is woven in this novel, the first in a series of an alternate – or rather hidden – history of humankind.
Roger Rommel is a worn-out widower, a man with a dangerous job, and a father whose relationship with his young adult son is civil at best. As he prepares to testify against a notorious criminal, the world as he knows it is ripped from him by the claws of real, living, fire-breathing dragons. All at once, everything he held as true is battered with doubt, and he learns the fate of humanity may rely solely on him…which is probably not a good thing, at least in his own opinion.
This tale is considered dark fantasy, and rightly so. There is a good deal of realistic violence as well as fantasy violence (hello, dragons), elements of magic, demons and demon-like beings, other realms, and the like.
Spiritual Content: The author beautifully weaves Judeo-Christian imagery throughout the novel. Some are brief moments, and others are long threads woven in and out of the characters’ consciousness. The story itself carries many elements of Christianity – sacrifice, forgiveness, and righteous anger. There are also images reminiscent of the Bible, not the least of which is at least one many-horned dragon.
Violence: Fist fights, gun violence, and torture. Fantasy violence includes battles between humans and dragons, and dragons with each other. One particularly difficult scene in which a man is tortured while another is forced to watch.
Language/Crude Humor: Moderate. The “S” word is used a few times, and a handful of “F” bombs are dropped. I don’t feel them flippant or gratuitous.
Sexual Content: Virtually none. A man remembers an occasion when he kissed his nude, pregnant wife, but there are no sex scenes or any kind of sex acts at all.
Drug/Alcohol Use: One character suffers the effects of a serious hangover, even while acknowledging that his overindulgence was a useless attempt at obliterating painful memories. It is a graphic scene, as far as drinking goes, and seems to serve as more of a warning than anything else. No glorification of alcohol. One character is a doctor and provides various pharmaceutical drugs to other characters.
Other Negative Themes: Several characters have shady dealings with the law, and one is an outright thief. The protagonist, Roger, deals with anger issues and does not care for his own health properly. There are strained relationships, mistrust, and betrayal throughout.
Positive Content: We witness unusual friendship develop. A familial relationship improves. Roger struggles with his faith (he is a confessed Christian) in a very believable way given the circumstances he’s in. We witness a good deal of selfless and sacrificial actions made by both humans and dragons.
+Action-packed! Lots of fantasy action and violence, so if that’s your thing, this is a good choice.
+Pretorious gives us a really beautiful breed of dragon. The descriptions are fascinating and evocative. There are five “races,” each with its own physical characteristics and abilities. Scattered among them are both psychic and physical abilities that can be used as weapons of war or tools of communication and peacemaking. The development of the individual dragons’ personalities and relationships is very enjoyable to observe.
+ Roger Rommel is not a “perfect” Christian. I get disappointed when all the Christian characters are flawless and angelic, and everyone else is evil, stupid, and cruel. Rommel, though his faith is mostly latent, is a good example of a believer who believes he has to do things himself, rather than relying on God. He has a moral compass, but it gets battered around quite a bit. He makes mistakes. He makes bad choices. When he was introduced as an “estranged” widower, I was looking for lots of overworked tropes, but the author mostly avoided them. Readers will be grateful for that.
+ Truly excellent “rewriting” of history to include dragons on our planet, including how and when they arrived and their plans. Very interesting take on how world powers, as well as “everyday people,” may actually react to this type of “invasion.”
– Few female characters. We have a dead wife; a cute, capable secretary; a charmingly eccentric psychic; two female dragons…and that’s about it. Few have more than a paragraph or two of “screen time.” I think several of the main characters could have been female rather than male, adding more depth, drama, and a different dynamic to the world of dragons versus dudes. I feel strongly that this was a missed opportunity.
– The editing was poor. I counted at least two dozen errors in verb tense, punctuation, and grammar. In one instance, a character who has been knocked out cold and left behind is speaking; clearly an error that should have made another character the speaker instead. I hate to admit it, but these errors do tend to draw me out of the world of the book. They can be jarring and frustrating.
– Dated references. The book was published in 2019, but there are a lot of references to 2009 and the 2008 election. Because the story is written in the “now,” the references don’t add to the story; instead, they feel gratuitous. It also seemed strange considering fictional world leaders were used.
– The violence and torture, including characters losing body parts, might be difficult for some readers.
+ Lots of action + Cool dragons + Believably flawed protagonist + Creative rewriting of world history
- Very few female characters - Sub-par editing is disruptive to narrative - Superfluous references to dates and world events - Violence might be a bit much for some readers
The Bottom Line
Living in Times of Dragons is an interesting read with well-developed mythology and a believable hero, marred by poor editing and a lack of female characters. As it is the first in a series, I am confident later editions will remedy this.