Kiss of the Dragonfly (YA Science-Fantasy)

Genre: SF / Fantasy, or Science-Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Length: 110K

Summary:

PETRA DRAKHORN (15), is herding goats and dreaming of raiding dragon nests with the men of her clan, when three of them return to camp bearing evil news. The hated Flay clan is challenging her father and his raiders for the same prize—the eggs of the dragon that killed her brother.

Petra is proud of her nascent skills and of the raiding heritage proclaimed by her inherited birthmark. Not for her the marriage into an allied clan that tradition demands. Determined to join a reinforcement party, she bests her rival OTGER (15) in a contest, sharpens her arguments, and wins the chance to help.

But she loses an ill-judged fistfight with Otger and is left behind.

Despondent and bitter, Petra isn’t comforted by her slippery crush, CORT (17). Instead, she pokes her nose into the doings of clan tyrant, GRONNOR. When she discovers a kinsman’s corpse, she suspects conspiracy with the Flays. Gronnor’s reaction shocks Petra’s kin and leaves her scarred.

Petra escapes camp, resolved to warn her father. Gronnor sends in pursuit the same corpse, now reanimated by an ancient sentient weapon—the dragonfly.

To her surprise, Petra is joined on the trail by a crippled veteran raider, the dashing Cort, and the despised Otger. The companions distrust each other, but must cooperate to survive. Their trek tests courage and endurance, while the corpse dogs their heels. Realizing she couldn’t make it alone, Petra comes to rue her pride, and to understand that Otger is a loyal admirer.

They must traverse the hulk of a penitentiary that once held millions. There, the dragonfly-controlled corpse kills the veteran raider. Cort reveals that Petra’s birthmark is the key to Gronnor’s ambitions. His own treachery exposed, Cort tries to seduce her to their cause, but Otger thwarts him.

Gronnor’s dragonfly, now wearing the carcass of a dog, pursues Petra and Otger through the prison. Otger is captured by half-human guards. Petra, dying on a ledge, is saved by a telepathic demon, who helps neutralize the dragonfly. With the demon on her back and the dragonfly in her pocket, Petra rescues Otger. She realizes the depth of her affection for him.

Escaping the prison, they encounter the nesting dragon that killed Petra’s brother. Wounded by the Flays, the dragon offers to trade her lifeblood for the safety of her young. Petra prefers another bargain: the dragon’s life and freedom in exchange for aid against the Flays.

Petra and Otger, demon in tow, are reunited with the Drakhorn raiders. Together they face both the Flays and prison guards. The Drakhorns are vastly outnumbered, but the battle is turned by Petra’s wits, a brave deception of Otger’s, and help from the grateful dragon.

The raiders return to liberate their camp from Gronnor and his allies. Petra’s father kills Gronnor in a duel. Now clan leader, he agrees to be bound by Petra’s bargain with the dragon. Petra, having traded games and pride for experience and self-knowledge, has also restored hope to her clan.

Plotlines and arcs:

Protagonist’s arc: Petra starts loyal and brave, a spirited dreamer. But she’s proud, a tad arrogant, untrusting, and afraid of the unknown. These flaws will thwart her if she can’t overcome them. By the end, she recognizes her blindness, has learned to accommodate, negotiate, trust, and even lead. She’s had to reconcile a brother’s death and rescue his killer, distinguish wish-fulfilment from truth, recognize a slick faker and an awkward, earnest soul, and begin to see beyond immediate family.

Antagonist’s arc: As Petra’s blindness is bottom-up, Gronnor’s is top-down. To save a people from ecological disaster of their own making (extinction of dragons), individuals are expendable. He murders his brother, betrays his peers, dishonors his clan. He won’t betray his vision for lust or luxury. He ends up dead.

Duty & tradition vs. personal agency: Petra’s traditional duty is to marry outside the clan and be a wife and camp manager. What she wants is to remain in her birth clan, like the guys. By the end, she hasn’t bought into tradition, but begins to understand that what she needs is family, and that family can be bigger than the circle she knew.

Rival-to-friend: At the start, Petra despises her smart, awkward admirer Otger, whom she sees as her rival. By the end, they’re holding hands.

Crush-to-betrayer: In parallel, Petra’s handsome crush tries to snare her with sugared words. It’s a close call, and that hurts.

Save the cat: Petra must save a cousin from forced marriage to a monster, as proxy for saving her clan.

Parent trouble: Petra’s father is cold and aloof, her mother ambitious and condescending. It starts unhappily; by the end … perhaps detente.

Magitech, witchcraft, and demons: Petra’s adventure coincides with the awakening of her paramental abilities (witchcraft), the first being to talk to demons. The demons have a deadly agenda of their own, one of which is to collect on Drakhorn debt.

Framing story: A resource war between two clans, with the Flays wanting the Drakhorns’ hunting ground, women, and children.

Distinctive aspects:

Unusual setting for the genre: semi-nomadic mountain clans eking out an existence robbing the nests of bioengineered ‘dragons’ in the moss-softened rubble of the apocalypse.

Post-dystopian in tone; it’s a story of hope and awakening.

Prison break as origin story: the story people are the genetically tagged descendants of prisoners who escaped a US Federal penitentiary.

Explores ecology, the cycle of civilizational collapse, sufficiently-advanced-technology-as-magic, and the religious interpretation of things not understood.

Can be read as F or SF, according to preference. Tattooed witches or gene-edited telepaths. Dragons or bio-weapons. Demons or AIs.

Many thanks in advance for any thoughts or comments,
Gil

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I do like the opening as it sets up a particular pathway for Petra and aspirations of raiding a dragon nest. There’s an additional layer of personal connection via her brother having been killed by it (I assume while raiding and living to his birthright). I equally appreciate that a third party villain has a similar motivation (to also raid for the eggs). This set up pits her clan’s traditions and her position in the clan as the primary antagonist (represented by the dragon) with the Flay clan as a secondary villain.

Unfortunately for me, this then doesn’t pay off in the remainder of the summary, which then flips to focusing on this reanimated corpse from a possible Flay collaborator. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the personal journey, villain, or difficulty set up at the beginning. It ends up feeling like a distraction from the initial conflict (will she manage to get on a raid or not?), especially when in the end she does end up at the dragon, not because she managed to get onto a raid or overcome anything (like when she fights her rival at the start) but via coincidence from the other distraction journey. It also then tries to pull off a two-for-one where the dragon helps beat the third party villain, except now that villain has been elevated to main villain.

I am really curious and interested in a story in which the major villain is a reanimated corpse consistently pursuing the lead. I think it’s an interesting take on the actual danger presented by something that can’t really die. It’s just unfortunate that it’s not really related to the initial set up.

Either you would need to swap out the middle section for something more related to the original set up, swap out the original set up around the dragon raid egg stuff, or find a better way to bridge the two (wouldn’t recommend this third one too much though as it will always kind of dilute the original premise).

Also, you use a bit of Deus Ex Machina, where a character is saved by chance or a sudden solution they didn’t previously had (she’s going to die but a telepathic demon saves her from nowhere. They’re not mentioned anywhere before or after), and that’s generally poor storytelling because it takes agency away from your main character, who can’t solve their own issue, takes away from possible character growth where side characters grow and save them, and/or feels cheap to the audience who couldn’t have predicted it as a solution to her problem.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, you shouldn’t have coincidental journeys. It again feels kind of weird/cheap when characters escape a prison and just happen to run into the dragon they needed to find. It’s similar to Fantastic Beasts 2 where they all end up in the graveyard for the climax just because that’s where the script needs them all to be. They should be trying to get to that dragon anyways and taking steps to get there along the way, not getting captured but coincidentally being imprisoned near to where they were going.

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Thanks, nick. It’s great to have a second perspective on this. I truly appreciate that you took the time to write such a detailed analysis.

I’ll mull what you say and try to revise the synopsis to better outline the bones of story. Considering the synopsis as an imperfect lens, I blame it more than the story at this point, though for sure the story might need a secondary thread or two pruned.

Fail The main fail of the synopsis is that you interpret that the protag’s journey / central conflict / need is to sort out the dragon and that said dragon is therefore the antagonist. But the dragon is not the antagonist; she’s a collateral victim. The antagonist is the “clan tyrant, GRONNOR.” Assuming the wrong villain, the rest of the synopsis understandably looks wonky.

Mulling: Nest-raiding is what the protag wants at the outset, but not what she needs (family), and needs to accomplish (grow her understanding to ‘family is what you make it.’) The protag’s fear is of expanding her horizon beyond the family she was born into – the “marriage into an allied clan” i.e. finding / making family. A story about clans is of course a story about family relations.

To get there, she has to overcome the chaotic destroyer of family (main villain GRONNOR, puppet-master of the dragonfly, of the pursuing corpse, and of the proxy enemy Flays), learn to trust the outsider friend (OTGER), and learn through necessity that her true goal is not raiding nests or destroying the dragon. She learns those things, and is finally able to recognize she has no quarrel with the dragon. She transforms her initial false goal, and uses the dragon to defeat the true enemy (GRONNOR and his Flay clan allies).

Solution? Looks like in the synopsis, I miss the important clue that Otger is from outside her clan, the outsider she must accept as friend, the one who will teach her that family can be found outside. Probably need to make her fear of ‘marriage away’ (fear of new family) clearer. Then add a stronger hint that GRONNOR – a man whose grand vision makes him oblivious to family – is the antagonist who she must overcome to learn the lesson that ‘family’ is what is truly important and what she makes it.

(For me to mull: a synopsis is a linear summary of the story, so it is usually not correct to explicitly state the protag’s true need at the outset, since in most arcs, the protag will only discover it by the end. That makes it more of a challenge to avoid a false impression that the ‘want’ is the ‘need’. Hmm.)

Re. Demon-Ex-Machina rescue. Yes, too many threads. Not Ex-Machina in the story, but hard to stuff into 500 words. Same with just running into the dragon - not coincidental, since all forces hunting the dragon were converging on it (the MC knew that to find the dragon is to find her father). How to say that in 1.5 words? :slight_smile:

Many thanks again for a providing an illuminating perspective.
Gil