::Acquired Taste

The Website of Tim Stretton

::Dragonchaser Facts

The initial idea for Dragonchaser came on the rowing machine at the local gym.  The political intrigue aspect came later.

Despite the title, there are no dragons at all in the novel.

The galley Negrillon is named after Paul Rhoads' cat.  Formello and Coverciano will both be familiar to tifosi of Italian football.

BUY! Dragonchaser


The Zael Inheritance


The Dog of the North

The Storm and the Cave

The Betrayal

Granny Gaes Car Booting

Setting the Standard




About Acquired Taste

::Dragonchaser (2005)

Dragonchaser is a fantasy of a timeless past. The novel is set in Paladria, a city whose twin passions are galley-racing and political intrigue.

Into this environment comes Mirko Ascalon, a disgraced former galley-master from the nearby realm of Garganet. Mirko accepts a commission to train the crew of Serendipity, the galley of leading aristocrat and politician Bartazan of Bartazan House.

Soon Mirko begins to realise the scope of the task facing him: his crew is inept and demotivated, Bartazan is planning to use the galley as a tool in his political ambitions; and Mirko's decision to accept bribes from Bartazan's rivals is unlikely to improve matters.

Buffeted by forces he can neither understand nor control, Mirko knows that one false move could leave him dead but who can he trust? 

Dragonchaser was largely written during 2002, and is my first attempt at a fantasy work. The influence of Jack Vance is again clearly noticeable, but if The Zael Inheritance took its inspiration from the Demon Princes novels, Dragonchaser is closer to Lyonesse and perhaps Maske:Thaery. The subsidiary influences of earlier work, notably Raymond Chandler, are noticeably absent here.

Dragonchaser was conceived from the outset as fantasy stripped of the epic/heroic dimension of Tolkien-derived models. This is a crop which has been over-cultivated, the soil depleted of all nutrients. My aim was to produce a fantasy which did not have elves, dwarves or other mythical races; did not centre around a quest or lost kingship; dispensed with magic; and did not, repeat not, have a dragon...

This artistic austerity did not survive the initial stages of the work. Mermaids were introduced, largely on a whim, but the plot device worked well enough to stay in. More than one reader said of the mermaid scene in Chapter 1, "I'm waiting to see how you tie that up." That reaction was enough to keep them in.

Magic too was reintroduced. Too many fantasies lazily use magicians deploying spells with abandon, even if the best of them (such as Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy) show the price to be paid for such mastery. In Dragonchaser magic has a very different position: abused in a time long before the novel, practitioners are outlawed and driven underground. And the benefits of magic are highly limited. The novel's main proponent of 'the Old Craft' has only a limited clairvoyance, and even that wanes with age.

Nonetheless Dragonchaser remains a humanistic kind of fantasy. The novel is powered by the relationships between the characters, and their motivations are ones we can all recognise:  ambition, avarice, loyalty, need for a sense of purpose, and in some cases simple boredom. The hero, Mirko, really doesn't know what he wants at all.

The result is a fantasy that may not be to all tastes. The absence of the trappings of traditional fantasy may discomfit some readers, but their removal also knocks away some of the crutches for weak plotting and characterisation. In Dragonchaser, the plot moves forward through planned character dynamics and not deus ex machina sorcery. And if you think the galley races are fun too, so much the better! Read reviews of Dragonchaser here. 



Dragonchaser takes place in Paladria, on the continent of Mondia. Some of the other locales of Mondia are hinted at, especially past dire events taking place in East Gammerling. It is the intention that future stories will treat some of these other places, particularly Taratanallos, the capital of West Gammerling, and Emmen, the seat of the Estrian kings. A small map of Mondia is shown below:


Click for other maps (large files)


Below is a map of Paladria, where the novel takes place:


 At Darklings

    Away from the docks the streets were quiet and Mirko secured the services of a covered rattlejack without difficulty.
    “Do you know the residence of the Lady Catzendralle?”
    The driver, with a dark saturnine face and a great beak of a nose, sniffed thoughtfully. “She lives at Darklings, the House Drall estate.”
    “Take me there — and smartly.”
    “This rattlejack knows but one speed, having but a single pacer to draw it. You may call it ‘smartly’, you may call it ‘tardy’, but our speed never varies.”
    Mirko sighed. He really could do without a philosopher at the reins, but the rattlejack trade seemed to attract them. The pacer set off at its regulation speed — which to Mirko was closer to ‘tardy’ than ‘smartly’ — and picked its way across the cobbles and into the low hills where many of the Electors made their estates, leaving the Old Town falling away behind.
    He looked up as the houses started to thin out. A wood of high manzipar trees loomed on the left. “We’re here”, said the driver. “This is Darklings.”
    “I don’t see any estate.”
    “That’s why it’s called Darklings. Do you think Koopendrall is keen to have every idle sightseer in Paladria riding a rattlejack past his house? That path in the woods leads you where you want to go. I take it you have an appointment?”
    “Of a sort,” said Mirko.
    “I’ll wait here. You won’t be long if you don’t have an appointment, and I could do with the fare for the return journey.”   
    “Suit yourself,” said Mirko, pressing a valut-piece into his hand. “Don’t blame me if you’re here all night.”
    “The fee is one valut twenty.”
    Mirko shrugged. “Consider the twenty minims deduction a loquacity tax,” he said before striding off into the manzipar wood.
    Darklings was set well into the wood. House Drall clearly valued its privacy. After some five minutes of stumbling along the gloomy path, Mirko found himself at a clearing in front of a building — or more accurately, a complex of buildings — adorned with fanciful towers and cupolas: Darklings. A wall of white marble surrounded the whole, with a single gate visible. In the absence of any other alternatives, Mirko stepped towards it, smoothing his attire as he did so. He was still in the clothes he had worn on the water this morning, by no means his smartest even when clean. Now, water-stained and smelling of smoke, even Mirko was conscious that he did not cut the most impressive figure.
    Standing before the gates Mirko found himself confronted by a curious contraption. A large white placard read:

This is Darklings

The seat of House Drall

Please pull the tassel appropriate to your status

    Affixed to the placard were several coloured ropes, each labelled to facilitate identification:

Peremptor or his Representative

Electors of Paladria or their Representatives

Persons of Gentility

Citizens and Free Men

Tradesmen calling by Appointment

Tradesmen, Other

Ruffians and Vagabonds

      Mirko found this a curious system. While the job of Koopendrall’s staff might be markedly simplified were Ruffians and Vagabonds to announce themselves in this way, it seemed to him that the truly villainous would in all probability have the guile to pull a different tassel. Mirko wondered which tassel represented his own status. He suppressed the strong temptation to pull ‘ruffian’ and settled after a short deliberation on ‘Persons of Gentility’.
    A bell of clear timbre rang quietly in the distance, and hesitant footsteps could be heard on the other side of the gate. “Who calls on House Drall at this hour?” came a querulous voice.
    “A ‘Person of Gentility’, by definition. Kindly open the gate so we may discuss my business in greater detail.”
    A lock turned and the heavy gate swung back. Mirko saw a tall stooping figure of advanced years and exaggerated dignity; he had seen similar retainers at Formello; they seemed to be a necessary adjunct to the modish Elector.
    “Please state your business, sir,” said the functionary with a bow. “This statement should include a full explanation of your reasons for presenting yourself in disguise.”
    “Your apparel is by no means consistent with the status of gentility. I assume that you therefore adopt the habilments of a dock worker for reasons of concealment.”
    “My name is Captain Mirko Ascalon, master of the galley Serendipity, owned by the Elector Bartazan of Bartazan House.”
    “Ah! All is now made clear. You should more correctly have pulled the red tassel marked ‘Electors of Paladria and their Representatives’ since your status derives from your employment rather than your person. You would be astonished how frequently visitors pull the wrong tassel.”
    Mirko smiled sympathetically. “A frustration and an inconvenience, to be sure. Now, may I gain admittance?”


  The Booth of Evaldas


        Galley-racing seemed to involve an inordinate amount of banqueting, and Mirko was keen that neither his own lustre nor that of Serendipity should be tarnished by shabby garments. Larien, too, would no doubt prefer to see him in rather more modish garb.
        The booth of Evaldas, “Appareliste to the Electors”, seemed to offer the most satisfactory range of stuffs, although prices were by no means economical.
        “Sir, may I help you?” asked an elderly man with a wig which would have appeared unwise on a courtier many years younger.
        “I am looking — at relatively modest expense — to create a wardrobe which will allow me to mix in decent society without embarrassment.”
        “Since I am Evaldas, you have begun your programme the right way. First, we must establish two essential parameters: what you consider to be ‘decent society’; and a quantitative assessment of ‘modest expense’.”
        Mirko flipped the last whelk from his portion into the air and caught it in his mouth. “My two most recent social functions were a soirée at Formello and last night’s banquet at Coverciano. ‘Modest expense’ comprehends a sum which prevents me from pitching you into the docks, as I did to my overseer yesterday.”
        Evaldas’s eyebrows advanced a little up his forehead. “You must, then, be the gallant Captain Ascalon!”
        “I no longer use the term ‘captain’, but essentially you are correct.”
        “You can be assured of my best attention, sir,” said Evaldas as he flapped away two assistants who had descended in competitive obsequiousness.
        Mirko had not realised quite how much was involved in selecting a new wardrobe. Evaldas provided a ready fund of advice, but his tastes ran towards the flamboyant, and Mirko was frequently obliged to check his enthusiasm.
        “We will save time,” said Mirko, “if we rule out of consideration immediately all shoes with curled toes. Frills, ruffs and fancies of all sorts can also be disregarded. I am not excessively vain, and require a style of address which implies sober, respectable competence rather than giddy preening.”
        Evaldas pursed his lips, absentmindedly adjusting his wig which had slipped from the level. “Your views are unorthodox. In good society one does not generally wish to convey the impression of having arrived straight from the plough or the docks.”
        “I did not notice Drallenkoop in pumps or glitter-britches last night.”
Evaldas sniffed disdainfully, an effect somewhat undermined by the hawking cough which followed.

        “My lord Drallenkoop achieves his success in society through his racing prowess. Were he judged on the quality of his wardrobe no doubt his status would be very different.”
        “Evaldas, I do not imagine that my own status will ever rest on my garments. Simply array me in good quality apparel which emphasises timelessness over modishness.”
        With a sigh Evaldas pulled out a measure and began to chart Mirko’s dimensions. Some while later Mirko left with Evaldas having drawn up the patterns for a suite of garments which largely met his requirements: two pairs of good leather boots, two pairs of breeches (one black and one white), a scarlet frock coat with gold frogging (about which Mirko retained considerable reservations), a more sober plum and umber coat, and another which cleverly represented the Azure of Bartazan House. Evaldas had also provided a range of somewhat extravagant neckerchiefs as well as some honest white blouses. Mirko had drawn the line at perfumed white gloves despite Evaldas’s blandishments. Haggling had been minimal; a further reference to Orstas had been sufficient to extract what seemed a competitive price.

Click here for more extracts from the novel


Dramatis Personae

Dragonchaser has a large cast.  The characters are set out below, as they might wish, in hierarchical order:


Ordered in accordance with rank and due protocol


GIEDRUS of House Luz

Elector for House Luz and Peremptor of Paladria



BARTAZAN of Bartazan House

Elector for House Bartazan  and candidate for Peremptor



Elector for House Drall




Electors of Bartazan's party


Electors of Giedrus’ party


Elector for House Annix




Connections by blood and marriage to the Elector Bartazan


Son of Koopendrall and master of Dragonchaser

Ipolitas LIUDAS

Son of Nool Vavar and helmsman of Serendipity


Niece of Elector Bartazan


Brother of Larien


Connection of the Elector Koopendrall


Daughter of the Elector Tychonod






Hierophant of Animaxian's Mysteries


High Priestess of Animaxian's Mysteries




Merchant and master of Kestrel




Lieutenant of the Peremptor's Constables


Master of Morvellos Devil


Helmsman of Morvellos Devil


Garganet officers aboard Spray


Superannuated helmsmen

MIRKO Ascalon

An exiled Garganet officer

Minalgas INISSE

Helmsman of Animaxian's Glory


Helmsman of Excelsior


Overseer of Excelsior and brother of Raidis




Overseer of Serendipity


Factotum to Bartazan


Slave-master to Bartazan


Sister to Padizan


Herald to House Drall




Overseer of Dragonchaser




Apothecary and charlatan


‘Appareliste to the Electors’



SERGEANT of the Peremptor's Constables




The Proper GUFFOON

Servant to Koopendrall


Servant to Panduletta




Enslaved Garganet officers and Quartermen of Serendipity


Slave and drummer of Serendipity


Slaves and Quartermen of Serendipity


Slaves and crewman of Serendipity


Slaves of Bartazan's seraglio


Slaves to Nadien



Criminals condemned to hang 




Beings from Below



Sundry mermaids, constables and rogues



Slaves are shown in italics




:All content on this website is © Tim Stretton 1997-2005
 ::last modified: 28 April 2005
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