Genre: SF / Fantasy, or Science-Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
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.
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,