The best books for people who love seeing dragons as central characters

Elana A. Mugdan Author Of Dragon Speaker
By Elana A. Mugdan

The Books I Picked & Why

Dragon's Bait

By Vivian Vande Velde

Book cover of Dragon's Bait

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorites. It tells the story of Alys, who's wrongly accused of being a witch, and is sentenced to death by dragon. However, it turns out that the dragon in question, Selendrile, is not a mindless, maiden-eating beast. He's an intelligent shapeshifter, and he's fond of revenge. He assumes human form and vows to help Alys get back at the people who wronged her.

My favorite thing about this book was that both Alys and Selendrile are morally gray. Selendrile makes Alys worse by leading her on a path of vengeance; Alys makes Selendrile better by accepting his nature; eventually, they meet in the middle as partners-in-crime. If you like your dragons to be charismatic, layered, and ever-so-slightly feral, check out Dragon's Bait!

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By Tui T. Sutherland

Book cover of Darkstalker

Why this book?

Although this book is aimed at a younger audience, it's one of the most compelling villain origin stories I've ever read. It's a spinoff novel based on lore from the bestselling Wings of Fire series, but can be read as a standalone. It shows the early life of the titular dragon, Darkstalker, who becomes a deadly antagonist in the main novel series.

This was shockingly dark and graphic for a middle grade novel, but I loved that about it, too. Add in the fact that every character in this book is a dragon, and you have a recipe for success. Though the narrative voice reads a little young (hey, it is meant for young readers), Darkstalker's journey toward evil is realistic, poignant, and, at times, heartbreaking.

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By Rosaria Munda

Book cover of Fireborne

Why this book?

Although the dragons in Fireborne aren't technically “central characters,” they are certainly central to the plot. That, plus the fact that the human relationships were so wonderfully balanced and beautifully nuanced, ensured this book made it onto my list.

This is one of those classic dragon/rider stories. Our two protagonists, Lee and Annie, have both become dragon riders in a post-revolution society where they – and their draconic mounts – are sworn to protect the populace. I loved the depictions of dragons competing, flying, and bonding with their riders, but I enjoyed the politics and human drama just as much.

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His Majesty's Dragon: Book One of the Temeraire Series

By Naomi Novik

Book cover of His Majesty's Dragon: Book One of the Temeraire Series

Why this book?

If you haven't delved into the Temeraire series yet, pick up book one! Temeraire's tale begins in His Majesty's Dragon when he hatches on a ship and chooses his future rider and captain, Will Laurence. Temeraire grows and trains, becoming one of the largest and most intelligent fighters in the British army's Aerial Corps.

The most unique thing about this book is that it's historical fiction. The series takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and shows what warfare would look like if massive dragons partook in the battles. However, the fantasy aspect of the book outweighs the historical aspect. There are dragons of all shapes and sizes on nearly every page, and Temeraire makes for a lovable and sympathetic deuteragonist.

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By Nandi Taylor

Book cover of Given

Why this book?

Given is a fantasy romance, centering on the relationship between Yenni and Weysh. Yenni is a princess of the Yirba who ventures to a distant land to seek a magical cure for her ailing father; Weysh is a charming and troublesome dragon shapeshifter who believes Yenni is his Given, or destined mate.

In addition to offering a unique spin on dragons, Given has wonderful world building. We learn about the intertwined history of three cultures: the Yirba, the Creshens, and the once-mighty dragons. While the draconic aspect is what drew me to this book, I also loved learning about the magic system, and how each culture approaches magic use. The romance is sweet and understated, and is well balanced with Yenni and Weysh's personal goals.

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