Saturday, August 24, 2013

On Dragon Queens

It's official. I've read over 3,000 pages this summer. I usually gorge on summer reading, but this is a record ... at least since 8th grade.

The lion's share of my summer reading has been the first three volumes of "Song of Ice and Fire," by George R. R. Martin. This is the series of books upon which "Game of Thrones" is based.

I had gotten about 60 pages into the first Martin behemoth when Mr. J brought home a new novel by Carl Hiaasen, Bad Monkey. Carl Hiaasen is my favorite pleasure-reading-author. Having a brand new novel of his in my hands is like Christmas and summer vacation, rolled into one. However, I let Mr. J read Bad Monkey while I surged on with "Ice and Fire."

It turns out that Bad Monkey and "Ice and Fire" have something in common: They both feature Dragon Queens.

You may recognize this Dragon Queen. She is Daenerys, from "Ice and Fire." Through almost 3,000 pages she has evolved from a frightened young teenager into a formidable warrior queen. I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that she is blonde, mirthless, and ambitious.

Bad Monkey's Dragon Queen is a drunken voodoo crone on the island of Andros in the Bahamas. Again I won't spoil, except to say that she will put a curse on a white devil for you in return for good rum and good sex, and perhaps your pet monkey.

Both Dragon Queens have followers, and both inspire a good deal of anxiety. But there the difference ends. If you are considering this a book review, then you decide how you like your Dragon Queens ... and choose your reading accordingly.

Daenerys has not an ounce of humor in her nubile young frame. She doesn't even get to toss out the witty one-liners that are the only stab at humor in "Ice and Fire." Her movements are stiff and respectable, her decisions based on a dragon's share of ambition. See how serious she looks in the photo? That's how she's written. Well, I mean so far. I have another 2,000-plus pages to read. Maybe she lightens up, but the word I would use to describe her is "dour."

Bad Monkey's Dragon Queen might be considered politically incorrect from the pen of a white writer, except that I always get the impression that Carl Hiaasen bases his characters on people he has at least read about, if not actually met. At any rate, this Dragon Queen (that's the only name we get for her) is so far beyond the pale that she cannot possibly have arisen strictly from imagination. She swills rum, she flashes her male customers, she switches loyalties at whim, she makes outrageous demands, and she never seems to practice enough voodoo to make her offensive to earnest Pagans like myself. This character's lines are delivered in a dead-on Bahamian accent that only makes her antics funnier.

In Carl Hiaasen's novels, even the heroes behave badly ... they just have loftier motives than the villains. But two things elevate this writer above the pack. One is that he's funny. The descriptions of character, action, and dastardly deeds are all done with an understated wittiness that leaves me howling and teary-eyed. The other thing is that all of the author's novels are infused with righteous indignation at the rape of the Florida landscape. Hiaasen is a lifelong resident of that state, and I, for one, can deeply identify with his frustration over the rampant erection of strip malls, condos, etc. etc. etc., and the graft and corruption that attend such enterprises. How does this author take indignation and make it funny? Wowsa. His characters actually do what we all would like to do! In large or small ways (usually both), his heroes and heroines are eco-terrorists. We root for them because we all have a gut feeling that only the bad behavior of a few renegades can save us all from the white devils.

As for witty one-liners ... George R. R. Martin doesn't turn as many successful ones in 3,000 pages as Carl Hiaasen manages in a slender 300.

It cracks me up that both of my summer reads had Dragon Queens. As far as Dragon Queens go, I like mine lewd, drunk, flamboyant, untrustworthy, and greedy. I bow a knee to funny, and that's what I got in Bad Monkey. Hoorah for the Dragon Queen on Andros Island!

Postscript to this sermon: If you have never read any of Carl Hiaasen's work, I suggest beginning with Sick Puppy or Stormy Weather. Avoid this author at all costs if you are politically correct or sexually prim. There's a reason his books aren't on HBO. Are you easily offended? Move on to "Ice and Fire." Is nothing sacred to you? Have you got a sick sense of humor? Hiaasen.

Oh yeah, one last thing: While Carl Hiaasen's novels sometimes require a suspension of disbelief, his characters tend to stay dead when they're killed. Most times. And in no case do they return as zombies.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Haven't read either of these authors, but Hiaasen sounds like my kinda guy. I'll add him to my 10-mile long "to read someday when I retire" list.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading Hiaasen's books so I will be on the lookout for Bad Monkey!