Peter Hallett’s debut novel, There Be Dragons, mixes the unlikely element of dragons into the chaos of the Vietnam War—and it works. Lieutenant Ethan Jacobs has just arrived in Vietnam. He’s a thoughtful and somewhat philosophical guy and the reader gains a sense he’s not quite prepared for what he will face once he hits the jungle. He has two main concerns, which feel typical of any green soldier: can he kill a man, and will his wife wait for his return?
The first question is answered very quickly. On his first mission, Jacobs leads his platoon into a fire fight and from there, the novel barely pauses for breath. The action is swift and brutal. A second foray into the jungle leads to a village that is harbouring NVA and then the dragons appear. Add some Russians and a CIA spook and this book is unlike anything you’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down until the last, shocking page.
You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out the answer to the second question.
I had not previously read anything set during the Vietnam War, so I found that aspect of There Be Dragons thoroughly engaging. The author’s attention to detail and obvious interest in the subject shone through. The short sentences and paragraphs worked well to convey the many elements competing for the soldiers’ attention. The dragons, oddly enough, fit. There were hints, then a brief glimpse and then they exploded into being. None of the myths or legends the soldiers put forth really explained why they were there, but in my opinion, dragons rarely need to explain themselves. They can breathe fire.
The secondary characters all had enough personality to remain separate and distinct, which is remarkable given how quickly the action moves. Both Jacobs and his second in command, Stephens, were really interesting. Jacobs, because he displayed unexpected grit. Stephens because he was nuts.
Finally, There Be Dragons is not for the faint hearted. Hallett could have called his book ‘There Be Blood, Gore, Torture and Other Really Horrible Things’, but that’s not as catchy a title and might give the impression this is just another novel set during the Vietnam War. Obviously, it’s not.
Written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest.