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Year of the Dragon: Six Fantasy Authors Discuss Our Favorite Mythic Beast


Year of the Dragon: Six Fantasy Authors Discuss Our Favorite Mythic Beast

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Year of the Dragon: Six Fantasy Authors Discuss Our Favorite Mythic Beast

Celebrating the Lunar New Year with a diversity of dragon-related storytelling.


Published on February 9, 2024

Images of six pop culture dragons: Drogon from Game of Thrones; Haku from Spirited Away; Smaug from The Hobbit; Charizard from Pokemon; Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon

It’s the Lunar New Year (LNY) of the Dragon on February 10th 2024 for the countries and diaspora communities who celebrate throughout the world. Then again, it’s always the year of the dragon in science fiction and fantasy. Dragons are soaring high in the eddies, between the recent popularity of The Fourth Wing and the return of many a childhood favourite with Christopher Paolini’s Murtagh. From Drogon to Smaug, Charizard to Haku, these mythical scaled flying monsters are hard to ignore. Six fantasy authors with forthcoming books featuring dragons, have gathered to tell you what these mythical creatures mean to us; and to celebrate the diversity of storytelling happening in this year of the dragon.

Eliza Chan (EC) (she/her) is a Scottish-born speculative fiction author. Her debut novel Fathomfolk is what if the little mermaid was a pissed-off immigrant in a semi-flooded East and South-East Asian inspired city and it was never about the love of a man; it was for the love of her home. A love letter to multicultural cities, the novel features a range of aquatic mythological creatures from water dragons to kappas and kelpies. Find her on Instagram or twitter @elizachanwrites or her website.

A.Y. Chao (AYC) (she/they) is the #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of Shanghai Immortal, a richly told adult fantasy debut teeming with Chinese deities and demons cavorting in jazz age Shanghai. Book two of the trilogy, Paris Celestial is forthcoming. She’s a Taiwanese Canadian fantasy writer resident in the UK who enjoys exploring the intersections of identity and belonging in her writing. Follow her on social media @ay_chao or visit her website.

Kamilah Cole (KC) (she/her) is a Jamaican-born, American-raised author. Her debut novel So Let Them Burn is a Jamaican-inspired Young Adult fantasy full of dragons, danger and deceit, following a god-blessed heroine forced to choose between saving her sister or protecting her homeland. Find out more on social media @wordsiren or her website.

Genoveva Dimova (GD) (she/her) is a Bulgarian fantasy author and archaeologist based in Scotland. Foul Days is her debut novelThe Witcher meets Naomi Novik in this fast-paced fantasy rooted in Slavic folklore, where a witch must trace her shadow to reclaim her magic. Find her on social media @gen_dimova or her website.

Ehigbor Okosun (EO) (she/her) is the #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of Forged by Blood and the forthcoming Exiled by Iron (Oct 2024), an action-packed, poignant duology inspired by Nigerian myth—full of magic and emotion and set in a highly atmospheric, complex world in which a young woman fights to survive a tyrannical society, having everything stripped away from her, and seeks vengeance for her mother’s murder and the spilled blood of her people. When she’s not writing, she’s belting out songs to Epic the Musical or bullet journalling and baking for her loved ones. Catch her on IG or Tiktok @okosunreads or sometimes on Twitter as @Ask_Heebs, or on her website.  

Taran Matharu (TM) (he/him) is the New York Times bestselling author of the Summoner series, which has been translated into 15 languages and has sold over a million copies in English. Dragon Rider is his first adult fantasy, “a tale of dragons and the riders who bond with them” set against the brutal backdrop of an uprising against the empire. You can find him on Twitter at @TaranMatharu1 and Instagram at @taranmatharuauthor.

2024 is the year of the dragon in the Lunar New Year. What image do you conjure up when you hear the word dragon?

KC: I have a very Western image in mind: massive, flying, scaly, fire-breathing. Good or bad, I’ve always loved the ferocity of fire-breathing dragons.

AYC: Dracarys! I loved whenever Daenerys used that command in Game of Thrones.

GD: The image in my head is very Western as well: huge, green, covered in scales, and kind of goofy. I think it’s because, as someone who speaks English as a second language, I tend to associate the English word ‘dragon’ with that creature I first encountered in fantasy books.

EC: I’m so glad I’m not the only one with the goofy cartoon dragon in my head Genoveva! I imagine bright green dragons with tiny useless wings, probably because I’ve been gifted far far too many cute dragon ornaments over the years. I also have an image of the classic ferocious fire-breathing dragon in combat with a knight; as well as the serpentine Asian dragon all in gold against the wall of a Chinese restaurant. My brain is clearly just dragon-filled.

AYC: Especially in the context of LNY, what comes to mind is the image of an East Asian dragon, like Haku in his dragon form from Spirited Away, a long serpentine creatures with dragon beards, fur along their spine, furry mane and antlers, flying through the clouds. East Asian dragons are more akin to unicorns in their purity, sacredness, and as harbingers of fortune and all things good.

TM: My first image of a dragon will always be Charizard! I grew up loving Pokémon, which is my first book series, Summoner, was inspired by them. But I’m much more focused on all things dragon for Dragon Rider—my fav mythological creature!

EO: I actually used to get annoyed with Charizard when I was a kid because I didn’t think he was a real dragon, but I love him now. When I hear the word dragon, I think of water dragons with their long snouts and sleek, paper bodies. I think of the paper lanterns my grandfather would make with us and the way he affectionately called them sea serpents, children birthed from the Earth’s desire to be free. 

Were you influenced by dragon media (books, films, games etc) growing up and if so, which ones?

KC: Oh, so much. I think one of my earliest ones was Dragon Tales on PBS? Then things like Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

GD: The Hobbit is my big one! I adored Smaug when I was little, and I remember being kind of on his side, since he was bothering no one until those dwarves decided to steal from him. Then, as a teen, I fell in love with Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, and slightly later (though I was probably still not old enough for it), George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Oh, and Skyrim, of course—there’s nothing quite like the feeling of that huge dragon shadow landing over you!

KC: Oh, Skyrim is such a good one. I also played some Dragon Age, but all the dialogue options gave me anxiety, so I didn’t make it very far. But I remember the dragons!

EC: Showing my age, here: the Anne McCaffrey Dragons of Pern books were my favourite as a teen. I devoured them from the library and even played the not very good computer game. The Weis and Hickman Dragonlance books were also my introduction to fantasyland good and evil dragons. And opening a debate here, but Falkor from The Neverending Story reminded me of the Asian dragons in Chinese iconography.

EO: Haku immediately for me!!! But before I ever fell in love with him, there were the paper dragons we’d make during festival season. Then the dragons in books (I started reading Anne McCaffrey when a much older cousin gave me the series) and in shows. I loved the danged CGI dragon from Merlin on BBC and how much it bothered and bugged and chewed him out. And Seiryuu from Fushigi Yuugi back in the early 2000s! I also loved Eragon so much and had some strong feelings for that series—Murtagh was the bad boy we deserved, and even my eight year old self knew it. Good thing he’s back. 

AYC: Loved Haku in Spirited Away. I suppose because images of East Asian dragons and phoenixes were prevalent throughout my childhood–they cropped up at LNY, at weddings, at celebrations with dragon dances, on crockery (the ubiquitous blue dragon on white china plates!), cartoon-y logos, calendars etc–for me there has always been a clear distinction between East Asian dragons and European dragons. One of the most distinctive differences is that East Asian dragons don’t have wings (apart from Yinglong from Chinese antiquity which had wings)  but also in the way they are depicted; generally East Asian dragons are not evil nor wild in the sense of terrorising people (remember the unicorn comparison… so attempting to kill one a la Smaug in The Hobbit would be the most base of blasphemies). Though Naomi Novik’s Temeraire is meant to be a Chinese dragon, it always struck me as a European creature since it has large spined wings. Didn’t grow up with a lot of stories of East Asian dragons, but I did enjoy Saphira from Christopher Paolini’s Eragorn, Daenerys Targaryen and her European dragons from Game of Thrones, as well as the dragons that Lady Sybil Vimes cares for in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I adored Toothless from How to Tame a Dragon, though I hate that Hiccup is the reason Toothless’s tail was injured.

GD: Yes to Lady Sybil Vimes’s swamp dragons!

AYC: And when they hiccuped and burned everything! LOL

TM: I absolutely loved Reign of Fire. Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey fighting dragons in post-apocalyptic London? Hard to beat!

EC: That film is iconic and ridiculously over the top. I need to rewatch it! 

Dragons stories have changed since the folklore tales of dragon slaying. From dragons as Napoleonic era airships in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series to sea serpents in Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders. Which more recent dragon evolutions excite you the most?

GD: I loved A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, which follows a young scholar who studies dragons; The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon which features both Western and Eastern dragons; and of course, So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole, which stars a young dragon rider, and Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan with its water dragons. In general, I’ve enjoyed seeing dragons featured in a wide variety of stories, blending different genres, from travelogues to epic adventures, and I’ll be checking out everyone else’s recommendations!

EC: I really enjoyed After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang where dragons are related to climate change. I also have on my to be read pile The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar by Indra Das and To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose because I’m super excited by diverse stories featuring dragons.

AYC:  I’ve loved the influx of different depictions of dragons in novels–the traditional European dragonlore, but also new facets like Dragonfall by LR Lam, the water dragons in Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk, a decaying underwater Vietnamese dragon kingdom in Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings, as well as their continued presence in children’s stories like Cressida Cowell’s How to Tame Your Dragon, Kevin and Katie Tsang’s Dragon Realm and Dragon Force series. Oh and of course the dragon in Henry Cavill’s The Witcher

TM: So many of my favs are named above already, but I shall forever be grateful to Eragon for popularising dragon companions. Riding a dragon into battle is much more badass than slaying one if you ask me! I’d also like to highlight Songs of Chaos by indie author Michael Miller—what a read.

EO: I’ll join you, Eliza, on the love for To Shape A Dragon’s Breath! So many of my faves and upcoming books I’m excited for (So Let Them Burn, Fathomfolk, Dragon Rider) have already been named as well. I’m bringing back sleek sea serpents dragons in my second book, Exiled By Iron, and my next series has some very important dragons making their way onto the scene. Can’t spoil too much there though except to say that I love elemental dragons!

KC: I love mecha dragons. So Let Them Burn features dragons made of metal that characters can pilot by channelling magic, and that’s because of things like Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Dani Bennett, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan, and Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee.

Three book covers: Dragon Rider by Taran Matharu; So Let Them Burn by Kamila Cole; Shanghai Immortal by AY Chao

Western dragons are traditionally fire-breathing, human-eating fiends but once subdued make excellent mounts. Eastern dragons are traditionally wise but occasionally bad-tempered shapeshifters associated with water and weather. Where do the dragons of your book fall in this spectrum if at all?

TM: I think the clue is in the name for my book—Dragon Rider! In my world, some folks have the rare ability to soulbond with beasts, including dragons. Those that do inherit increased strength and speed, and if trained can learn majicking too. 

KC: So Let Them Burn features the fire-breathing, excellent mount type of dragons. There are different breeds with different strengths, but they all have that in common as a species. I like to think I love those most because I’m a Fire sign—Aries, if anyone is curious—so I love the idea of riding around on a dragon that can burn it all down.

EO: I’m also an Aries!!!! Holla! 

AYC: I love this. We can be the Dragon Roundtable Riders and we’ll fly around screaming Dracarys. There are two dragons in Shanghai Immortal and are both deities–Lord Black is dragon king of the North Sea, and Long Nu is his cousin. They are as old, possibly older, than the cosmos, and one of the most revered beings in that world. Lord Black is very even tempered though he is rather mischievous and enjoys teasing others. Definitely not mounts. **shudder** Would not like to find out what they would do if anyone tried to ride them. 

EC: Fathomfolk is set in a modern semi-flooded East and South-East Asian inspired cityscape and my water dragons fall into the wise shapeshifter category. I enjoyed playing with the tropes of Asian dragons: they always seem to have things figured out and are sage and level-headed. Nami, the younger of the two dragon siblings, is not that. If anything, she’s as hot-headed as a fire-breathing dragon!

EO: My dragons are ancient, mischievous and cunning creatures that have a part to play in creation itself. They know who they are, and are capable of much more than destruction. They can form respectful relationships with people but always with the understanding that they are their own beings. There are multiple versions of them in my books and they are elementally influenced. 

GD: Perhaps unsurprisingly given Bulgaria’s geographic location, my dragons fall in the middle. The dragons of Bulgarian folklore (known under a number of different names, such as halas, lamias, and zmeys) tend to be associated with nature. They can occasionally be benevolent, but can also cause floods and droughts, or storms and hail when scorned. My favourite are the zmeys: in stories, they are depicted as shapeshifters, able to disguise themselves as handsome men in order to seduce young women and trick them into marriage. This is particularly dangerous, as marrying a zmey is deadly—this is why they are often interpreted as an allegory for depression. This is what made the zmey the perfect antagonist in my eyes, and why I chose to feature one as the villain in Foul Days.

In Chinese culture/mythology, the dragon encapsulates masculine energy and the fenghuang feminine energy: two opposites like yin and yang. Do you feel there’s any truth to dragons being more masculine?

TM: Having grown up in the western canon, that’s not something I’ve noticed in the dragon-related media I consume. If anything, I’ve seen more female dragons than male ones when it comes to dragon companions. Indeed, Jai’s dragon in Dragon Rider, Winter, is female. 

GD: I don’t tend to associate dragons with a particular gender! As I mentioned, we have a few different types of dragons in Bulgarian folklore: while the male zmeys tend to be the more level headed and easier to reason with, the female halas are the ones who are known for their fits of violent rage which cause terrible weather—typical! I deliberately made my zmey in Foul Days anything but level headed in protest.

KC: It’s funny, because the main dragon in So Let Them Burn is female. And, in general, I’ve always thought of dragons as being female, if they adhere to any kind of gender binary at all. In nature, females of the species are typically the ones that lay the eggs, so I think just the fact that Western dragons lay eggs made me consider them more feminine?

EC: I do have this image for Eastern dragons. They are often seen as sage old men, associated with the emperor in particular. But Kamilah makes a good point about laying eggs so perhaps it’s more the Asian variety? I can’t think of any stories about Asian dragon eggs off the top of my head, although the pearls they are often seen with are very egg-like.  

AYC: Patriarchal twaddle! LOL I like to think of yin and yang as being complementary for balance but neither one is particularly female or male. Kind of like testosterone is associated with men while estrogen with women but we all need both for our bodies to function properly.

EO: I agree, thank you, Alice! Growing up, dragons were seen like spirits–they don’t so much embody a gender as they choose a form for as long as they desire it. This is something that’s actually referenced and discussed in Exiled by Iron. It’s something that will play a huge role in my next series as well. 

They say vampires come and go but dragons are perennial. Why do you think that is? Why did YOU choose to write about dragons?

TM: I think vampires fall in and out of fashion, perhaps I might say they hibernate (ha!), but dragons are indeed a staple of fantasy that never quite seems to fall out of favor. That being said, I think dragon novels are having a real resurgence this year!

EC: There are definitely more dragon books this year than I can keep up with, which is a good thing! I think dragons are perennial because they are basically magic flying dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are impressive enough when you think about the sheer size of them, stalking the earth, but add in magic and what’s not to like? I love writing dragon stories because when I was a kid I asked for a dragon egg for Christmas from Santa and we can all guess how that turned out. I’ve been trying to fulfill my own wish ever since. 

KC: I wish I had a thoughtful answer for this, but I’ve just always thought dragons were cool. I never left my dragon phase. I probably never will, even as I move on to other books!

GD: I’m so glad you said this, Kamilah, because I always say I’m a dragon girl, like some people are horse girls. I think dragons are so versatile, it’s impossible for them to fall out of fashion. Vampires tend to fit a particular tone (dark and gothic), and some stories play that straight, while others subvert it, but all are ultimately in conversation with it. Dragons, on the other hand, belong in many different types of stories, and feel much more open to interpretation, as the fact we all had different ideas in our heads when hearing the word ‘dragon’ demonstrates.

AYC: I love the mythos of immortal creatures with a wisdom that transcends petty concerns. I also wanted to see more East Asian dragons in the lore so I wrote them into the story. My book also has vampires (more coming in Book 2 of the trilogy, Paris Celestial) so I’m doing my bit to bring the vamps out of hibernation, though I’m not sure they were ever really gone. What We Do in the Shadows is one of my fave current vampy shows, and they’re definitely still around in various guises.

EO: Wisdom that transcends petty concerns is it!!! I actually think vampires are never out of fashion because they’re a metaphor for how we discuss relationships that are inherently fraught with imbalance. People often have vampiric desires towards others and act on them frequently. That being said, the dragons of my childhood were beings of creation and keepers of destiny. I write them to fulfil this role and because they’re exciting. I also hope people get to see them in new ways in both Forged by Blood and Exiled by Iron

Three book covers: Forged by Blood by Ehigbor Okosun; Foul Days by Genoveva Dimova; Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

Real talk, how could dragons live alongside humanity without eating all the people and/or livestock? (Follow up questions, could humans ever win if dragons decided to burn them/ squash them/ eat them?)

AYC: Humans with superior firepower probably could destroy dragons; we are pretty demonic in our methods of killing others via ammunition, biological and chemical warfare etc. But, if we’re worldbuilding from the ground up with an ecological system that includes a thriving population of dragons, then there must be a sustainable ecosystem to support dragon life. Maybe some kind of cow sized mammal that breeds as quickly and rampantly as rabbits, and so humans don’t need to worry about being eaten up… unless we upset that balance which, who are we kidding, we’ll always have elements who want to be the top of the food chain. In a swords and wagons kind of world humans would likely lose against dragons intent on eating us. In an advanced technology pillaging resources kind of society, the dragons (and all other animals) are probably doomed, and eventually humans too. So either way, humans would lose, eventually.

EO: Okay, so it is my duty as a former quantum physics student and a physicist’s daughter to make a joke about how the spherical cow would be the sacrificial animal to a dragon. But lol, let me stop before I get too far ahead of myself. The dragons I write about draw their essences from the earth and elements themselves. They eat in a ceremonial fashion but it’s better to say that they consume spirit rather than flesh. In this way, we avoid rolling multiple spherical cows up a hill and laying them altars (like golf tees–ha!) for dragons to consume. These dragons are fearsome AF because they can take from you more than flesh, and that is the most frightening ask. 

KC: That’s one thing I love about them, though. They’re so versatile. Either they’re intelligent enough to be reasoned with or to rule over humans, or they’re a creature like any other to be avoided or treated with respect. What dragons are like and how that interacts with humanity is the best question to start with when writing a dragon fantasy. That said, if a dragon decides to squash me, that’s their right. That’s on me. They caught me slipping.

GD: I’d started to come up with some complicated economic plan that would allow us to feed the dragons a healthy and balanced diet, devoid of human meat, but Kamilah does have a point actually—are we sure they’re planning to eat us? Personally, I wouldn’t bet on humanity if there was a conflict between humans and dragons, to be honest.

TM: I think in much the same way that a pack of lions doesn’t have to, a dragon of equal weight can probably sustain themselves by hunting! And I think they’d be smart enough to avoid pesky humans and their livestock, lest they attract a band of dragon slayers paid by the local villagers!

EC: Speaking of dragon slayers, my pet peeve is when dragons land and oh no, fall foul to nets and arrows. Why would they do that? That’s like an eagle hopping around trying to run after rabbits. But yes, agree with everyone else that we can only hope our draconian overlords keep us around for intelligent conversation rather than lunch.

Dragons as pets or boyfriends, discuss. Would the dragon in your book be better as a pet or boyfriend?

EC: So torn on this one. Growing up on the Dragonriders of Pern books I really wanted a fire lizard. So I think a Western dragon as a pet— think of how much you would save on air travel! But then I’d be greedy and also want an Eastern shapeshifter dragon *cough* Haku *cough* as a boyfriend. Lol.

AYC: Baby dragon as a pet, adult dragon as an ally. Boyfriend? I think Lord Black would be an infuriating boyfriend; never giving straight answers, always mirthful, can see into the future but allows everything to run its course, always right… yeah I’d probably Dracarys him.

EO: Damn, baby dragon as a friend. Let’s be honest no dragon is ever gonna be a pet, not truly, not when they know more, and capable of destroying you–petdom is insulting at that point. As for a romantic partner? I’d fear falling in love with a dragon, because again, it’s a creature that can change to match its desires and also one that can live for an eternity. To be loved by a dragon would mean walking the line between fearing you’ll fall out of favor or that you’ll be loved so intensely, you’ll never be allowed to truly die. Someone in Exiled by Iron falls in love with a dragon, and hmmm, it’s an interesting relationship. 

GD: The dragon in my book would be terrible as both! But if I had to choose, I suppose keeping him as a pet is the safer option, since, you know, marrying him means certain death? He wouldn’t be particularly soft or cuddly in any case. In general, I vote for dragons as pets—I don’t fancy having a partner who can reduce me to ashes with a badly aimed sneeze.

KC: I prefer dragons as pets! The dragons in my books can’t shift into humans; they’re a completely different, fierce species and the kinder you are to them, the kinder they’ll be to you.

TM: Pets all the way! My dragons are very intelligent, more so than any other animal in our real world, but they don’t reach the level where they’d be capable of a romantic relationship, even if they were magically turned into a human.

And finally, if we were to have a dragon off, how would the dragon in your book win the fight?

KC: Zephyra is a sage dragon, which is a breed in So Let Them Burn known for being small and quick—in speed and intelligence. She would strategize the best way to exploit your weaknesses, then take you down before you could hurt her riders.

TM: Winter would need to do a fair bit of growing as she’s just a little hatchling for much of Book 1 in the Soulbound saga! But once she’s full-grown, I think she’d hold her own in a fight, especially with a majick-using, falx-armed Jai riding on her back. 

EC: Nami would do well in one-to-one combat as she’s skilled in water magic having learnt from the best teachers in the underwater havens. If this was a bigger battle, she would probably rush in without thinking, blow everything up and then, oops, deal with the consequences afterwards. 

AYC: Lord Black would probably speak directly into everyone’s heads (he can do that) and offer a lengthy recital of his amateur (and very bad) poems. Those who are foolhardy enough to stay end up so grateful when he stops they flee with alacrity.

EO: The gwylfins are telepathic and they have fire breathing capabilities. Don’t mess with them, you’ll die. As for [REDACTED] from Exiled By Iron, whoever challenges them will wish they had never existed. [REDACTED] is so fearsome that other dragons hope not to ever cross paths. [REDACTED] is also capable of shifting and soul snatching so that’s an instant fight win. 

GD: The Zmey would not win! He’d lose, probably rather badly, and then he’d slink away to lick his wounds—and then, he’d most likely try to come up with some way to cheat whoever won out of whatever they’d won. icon-paragraph-end

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Eliza Chan


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