Alex London on World Building, Middle Grade, and BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES
There’s a new middle grade fantasy series that should soar to the top of your TBR pile: Battle Dragons, by bestselling author and friend of the shop Alex London. As Cathy puts it, the series hits “the sweet spot for middle grade fantasy: It's set enough in the real world to allow new fantasy readers an easy entry to the genre and the incredible world building draws fantasy fans in immediately.” Plus, there’s thrilling adventure, plenty of humor, and, well lots of dragons!
Suffice it to say, we’re thrilled to be hosting Alex to celebrate the launch of book one, Battle Dragons: City of Thieves, on September 21. He’ll appear in conversation with Kwame Mbalia, and you won’t want to miss it. Until then, tide yourself over with our Q&A on the series below!
Congratulations on Battle Dragons! Can you tell us a little about the series and how you got the idea?
Thanks so much! The short pitch is that it’s The Fast and The Furious meets Wings of Fire, but I also do think it’s very much its own thing.
As to my inspirations, there are endless sparks that ignite the ideas in any novel, but this one combined so many influences that fueled my imagination when I was a middle schooler. I’ve loved dragons since I was little and was obsessed with Pete’s Dragon and with Falcor from The Neverending Story. I’m deeply drawn to the relationship between kids—who don’t often have a lot of power—and dragons—who are pure power. These relationships are at the heart of Battle Dragons. Power doesn’t change who we are; it reveals us, so dragons are a great way to explore who my characters are, and who they are in the process of becoming, which really are the fundamental questions of any middle grade novel.
The series also combines my love of cyberpunk like Akira and Blade Runner with my love of fantasy, of dragon lore, and ultimately of stories set in that middle school time, when young people start to come into their own and realize how much bigger, complicated, and wonderful the world is than they ever dreamed. I wanted to write a story that would have appealed to me in middle school, but that would’ve also expanded my imagination for what kind of a world was possible.
There are sibling rivalries and new friends, first crushes (well, this comes in later in the series) and high stakes souped-up dragon riding action. There are also, I hope, a lot of laughs!
You’ve written fiction for middle grade readers and young adults. What about this series made it right for middle grade?
There’s something special about those middle grade years, when your imagination is running wild, you’re seeing the world in new ways from new vantage points, and you’re just discovering your own voice and your own power, for good or ill. In a way, the middle school years are a lot like riding a dragon, with risks and rewards and endless wonders. It seemed the perfect age group to tell this story for.
One of the marvelous things about this book is the mixture of realistic elements and fantasy. As a writer, how and why did you create that balance?
I love world building, so for me it was a fun challenge to imagine a modern mega-city that had been built around dragons, the way Venice was built around canals. I got to interrogate what architecture would look like and entertainment and school and…well, everything. My main goal was always to make the human communities and their adaptation to dragons feel absolutely real and normal, so that readers are never thrust out of the story just because a school bus is a long-wing dragon. I created around dragons, but kept everything as grounded as I could on the human scale.
We love the dragon names in the book. Tell us a bit about how you created those.
I couldn’t possibly go into detail on each one here, but I did develop a basic dragon taxonomy when I began, essentially dividing them into Short-Wing, Medium-Wing, and Long-Wing dragons, each more suited to different jobs, and within each category a wide variety of species, from Infernal Long wings who fire their hot breath from high in the clouds, the short winged Blue Foot, which are like the Honda Accords of Drakopolis. Then there are the different Reapers, Medium-Winged dragons who make the best battlers with their wide variety of breath weapons and skills, and the related Wyverns, two-footed dragons pulled straight from mythology. In my story, they’re used mostly by the secret police, kind of how the KGB in the Soviet Union mostly drive Volgas. In Drakopolis, if you see a Wyvern following you, you know you’re in some trouble.
It’s a lot of fun researching and inventing dragons and their abilities! I often ask myself with a specific dragon: What’s the coolest thing I can do here and how will it impact the world of the story? I spend a lot of time thinking of it like a card game, Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. In fact, I even invented a game just like that for the story! I dream of “DrakoTek” becoming a real game one day!
Let's talk about the book cover, the case, and the incredible end papers! Did you have any input into those artistic choices?
Not much, but I couldn’t be happier with what the designer, Maeve Norton, created. It’s gorgeous and captures the vibe of the book perfectly. I yelped when I first saw it and I leap a little in my heart every time I see it still. I’m one happy author!
Can you share a little bit about what’s next in the Battle Dragons series?
Book 2 is called Battle Dragons: City of Speed. There will be high stakes dragon races, both professional and illegal street races. There will be new and wonderful breeds of dragons, as well as new friends and new enemies for Abel and his crew. It’s gonna be a high stakes, high speed, high flying romp that I hope readers race to devour!
See what I did there? Race to devour? Because dragon racing… ☺
What are you reading?
Well, I have a toddler, so though I’m part way through a lot of books for grown-ups and middle graders, most of what I read in my waking hours is what I read to her! She’s just discovered a love of Kate DiCamillo’s Louise, The Adventures of A Chicken and of course, Dragons Love Tacos (which I had to reference in Battle Dragons).
In a modern mega-city built around dragons, one boy gets caught up in the world of underground dragon battles and a high-stakes gang war that could tear his family apart.
Once, dragons nearly drove themselves to extinction. But in the city of Drakopolis, humans domesticated them centuries ago.