The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: <em>The Dead City</em>
Apr 1 2011 10:14am

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City by John ScalziTor Books is proud to announce the launch of John Scalzi’s new fantasy trilogy The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, which kicks off with book one: The Dead City.


Night had come to the city of Skalandarharia, the sort of night with such a quality of black to it that it was as if black coal had been wrapped in blackest velvet, bathed in the purple-black ink of the demon squid Drindel and flung down a black well that descended toward the deepest, blackest crevasses of Drindelthengen, the netherworld ruled by Drindel, in which the sinful were punished, the black of which was so legendarily black that when the dreaded Drindelthengenflagen, the ravenous blind black badger trolls of Drindelthengen, would feast upon the uselessly dilated eyes of damned, the abandoned would cry out in joy as the Drindelthengenflagenmorden, the feared Black Spoons of the Drindelthengenflagen, pressed against their optic nerves, giving them one last sensation of light before the most absolute blackness fell upon them, made yet even blacker by the injury sustained from a falling lump of ink-bathed, velvet-wrapped coal.

With the night came a storm, the likes of which the eldest among the Skalandarharians would proclaim they had seen only once before, although none of them could agree which on which one time that was; some said it was like the fabled Scouring of Skalandarharia, in which the needle-sharp ice-rain flayed the skin from the unjust of the city, provided they were outside at the time, while sparing the just who had stayed indoors; others said it was very similar to the unforgettable Pounding of Skalandarharia, in which hailstones the size of melons destroyed the city’s melon harvest; still others compared it to the oft-commented-upon Moistening of Skalandarharia, in which the persistent humidity made everyone unbearably sticky for several weeks; at which point they were informed that this storm was really nothing like that at all, to which they replied perhaps not, but you had to admit that was a pretty damn miserable time.

Which is to say: It was a dark and stormy night.

And in that dark and stormy night, upon the walls of Smaelkaven, the imperial castle of Skalandarharia, two guards stood, upon a watch.

“Is it a dark night,” said Barnas, the first.

“Aye, and stormy too,” said Ruell, the second.

“Have you ever seen a storm like it?” asked Barnas.

“Only once,” said Ruell.

“Yet if it were not for the lightning, we wouldn’t be able to see at all,” Barnas said. “It is so dark that I would lose my sword at the end of my hand.”

“And that is why we must be on our guard!” said a third voice, booming from beside them. The two guards drew their swords; lightning flashed above them as they did so, revealing the form of Quinto, their lieutenant, standing on the wall. Thunder pealed shortly thereafter, shaking them all.

“Had I not spoken, I would have been upon the two of you like a demon,” Quinto said, to Barnas and Ruell.

“Well, it is dark,” Barnas said.

“And you’re wearing black,” said Ruell.

“And you’re on your tiptoes,” Barnas said.

“I don’t want your excuses,” Quinto said, bringing his feet down. “If you can’t defend this castle you might as well not be guards at all.”

“Yes, lieutenant,” Barnas said.

“You have to admit, lieutenant, that the Captain of the Guard isn’t making it easy for us to do our job,” Ruell said. “We’re out here on a dark and stormy night, no moon, with all the light from the city snuffed and not even a torch for us to see by.”

“You know why that is, Ruell,” Quinto said. “Captain Ealth was ordered by the emperor’s wizard himself. No light in the castle that can be seen from the outside. All lights from the city likewise extinguished.” He motioned toward the darkness of Skalandarharia, not that Barnas or Ruell saw it. “All for the same reason.”

“The night dragons,” Barnas said. Lightning flashed again, thunder rolling almost immediately after.

“That’s right,” Quinto said.

Ruell snorted.

“You have something to say, Ruell?” Quinto said.

“Begging the lieutenant’s pardon,” Ruell said, “but ‘night dragons’? Are we meant to believe that the emperor’s wizard, or the emperor himself, really believes in such things?”

“You know of the same reports I do, Ruell,” Quinto said. “Caravans attacked, the city itself infiltrated and citizens taken away, buildings mysteriously burning in the night. The wizard’s own investigators have been to the burnt shells. They say there’s no doubt it’s the night dragons. They say they’ve returned after all these years.”

“Bollocks,” Ruell said.

“You don’t believe in night dragons?” Barnas asked, to Ruell, as lightning flashed once more.

“Of course I don’t,” Ruell said, around the thunder. “I may be a guard and a soldier, but I am not an uneducated man. I once spent three entire months in school. I am a man of science, and science tells us that an animal as large as a night dragon is meant to be simply cannot fly. If they can’t fly, they’re not dragons. Night dragons are a myth.”

“If it’s not night dragons, then how to you explain the attacks on the caravans and the city?” Barnas asked.

“As a man of science would,” Ruell said. “By suggesting sound and realistic alternatives to the fanciful suggestion that night dragons did these things.”

“Such as?” Quinto asked.

“Vampires and werewolves,” Ruell said. “Quite obviously.”

“Vampires and werewolves,” Quinto said.

“That’s right,” Ruell said.

“Have you ever seen a vampire? Or a werewolf?” Quinto asked. “Has anyone? Ever?”

“Of course no one’s seen them,” Ruell said. “They lurk.”

“So, wait,” Barnas said. “The vampires and werewolves are in league with each other?”

“Well, no, probably not,” Ruell said. “It’s either one or the other. Alternately, vampires did some attacks while werewolves did others. If you think about it with a clear and scientific mind, it’s the only rational explanation.”

“I can’t argue with that logic,” Barnas said.

“There’s a group of us who meet weekly to discuss the vampire and werewolf threat that’s clearly being ignored in order to focus on flashy, implausible causes for our current troubles,” Ruell said. “If you want I could bring you along.”

“I’d like that,” Barnas said.

“Done,” Ruell said. “But meanwhile we still have the problem of standing here in the dark, trying to guard the castle when we can’t see anything. What’s the reasoning here?”

“If the city is dark, then the night dragons won’t see the castle,” Quinto said. “It makes it more difficult for them to attack from the air.”

“See, now, that’s just nonsense,” Ruell said. “Bumping about in the dark hiding from creatures that don’t exist. Meanwhile, vampires and werewolves are out there eating sheep and babies and virgins.”

“Who will think of the babies?” Barnas said. “And the virgins? And the sheep?”

“Exactly,” Ruell said. “Nonsense, I tell you.”

“Nonsense or not, you still have your orders,” Quinto said.

“Yes, lieutenant,” Ruell said. “And we’ll follow them. What little good they will do anyone.” He snorted again. “Honestly. Night dragons. It’s hard to believe anyone would really believe in them. Some of the things people say about them are complete foolishness. Why, I’ve heard people say that they can move so silently you don’t even hear them until they are on top of you. As if any creature so large could move with such silence.”

“I’ve heard night dragons don’t actually need light to see,” Barnas said. “That they can see by sensing heat or suchlike.”

“I’ve heard that they can speak in human tongues,” Quinto said. “And that sometimes they speak just to surprise their victims into immobility.”

 “I’ve heard that they can eat castle guards three at a time,” said a fourth voice. “Although that’s not actually a legend. That’s really just more of an ambition.”

“Who said that?” Ruell said, and then the lightning flashed and the three guards saw the spreading wings, the giant head, and the terrible, terrible teeth.

The thunder drowned out the screams, which were brief enough anyway.

The dark and stormy night concealed the rest.


The castle of Smaelkaven was dark, and not only because of the imperial wizard’s order of general blackness. It was dark because it was a huge windowless lump of granite, designed to withstand attacks from humans, orcs, elves, trolls, rhinoceroses, night dragons, and the occasional drunken minor god looking for kicks, although not necessarily all at once. Its cavernous insides were lit by lamp and torch and the particulate waste of each, centuries of it, smudged walls, obscured frescoes, turned rich tapestries into sooty hanging blankets and gave the ceilings of Smaelkaven such a quality of black that… well, let’s just reiterate the general state of darkness at the castle and take it as read moving forward.

Some years before a forward-thinking alchemist named Yehd Aisohn had come to Imo Morde, the newly-advanced Imperial Wizard, with an audacious plan to light Smaelkaven through the use of refined lodestones, wrapped in the finest copper wire, spun inside a metal cage, attached by other wires to a cunning sphere of glass with a gossamer filament inside, which would glow, bathing a room in soft, warm, golden light.

Morde had the wires attached to the alchemist to see if he would glow as well.

He did not.

Morde had the unfortunate Aisohn’s heretical work consigned to his private library, where it had remained for the next four decades, unread and unexamined, lit by tallow candles and oil. It was in that personal library that Morde received Blad Ealth, Smaelkaven’s Captain of the Guard. He was at his desk, watching two men playing chess at a table, with two men standing behind each seated man, with a bucket.

“Captain Ealth,” Morde said. “You’ll have to make this brief, I’m afraid. I’m conducting an experiment.”

“Yes, your eminence,” Ealth said. He glanced almost unintentionally at the men in the experiment, and then frowned, confused.

Morde caught the look. “Something the matter, captain?”

“Those men are playing chess, your eminence,” Ealth said.

“Why, yes they are,” Morde said. “Nothing escapes your trained eye, captain.”

“Thank you, your eminence,” Ealth said. “Might I ask what role the leeches attached their heads play in all of this?”

“An excellent question, captain,” Morde said, “and one that in fact touches on your office. As you know, there seems to be a correlation to being able to fight, and keeping one’s blood in one’s body. For some reason that we’ve not yet entirely ascertained, if you lose too much blood, you simply aren’t able to keep going on. You’re aware of this, I assume.”

“I have noticed something very similar, yes,” Ealth said.

“Of course you have,” Morde said. “You are an observant man. Well, I am curious about this relationship, particularly as regards the brain, which I think is—and not the liver, as so many so-called learned men would have you believe—the seat of cognition in our bodies. So this experiment here is designed to test the relationship between the blood and the brain.”

Morde motioned to the two sitting men. “Our friends here are both expert chess players, and I’ve engaged them to play against each other. But each time one player loses a piece, I have a leech attached to his head, to suck away the vital blood. Look, it’s about to happen now.”

The captain watched as one of the seated players, playing orange, took a pawn from the other, playing green. As he did so, the man standing behind the green player fished into his bucket, pulled out a leech, and stuck it with a squishy pop onto the forehead of the player, who had six other leeches already attached to various places on his head and neck. The green player woozily reached out and moved a piece.

Morde sucked in his breath. “Ooooh,” he said. “Bad move. The leeches are really throwing off his game. Which, of course, supports my entire thesis.”

The orange player, with only three leeches, rapidly reached across and took the piece. The man standing behind the green player fished out another leech, attached it, and then smacked the green player across the back of the head, as if in frustration.

“Stop that,” Morde said. “You’re tainting the experiment!” He turned back to Ealth. “Really, no one appreciates how important it is to have a controlled environment for these things.”

“My sympathies, your eminence,” Ealth said.

“Thank you,” Morde said. “This is groundbreaking work, you know. It could revolutionize the way we think about blood. And also, tangentially, leeches.”

The green player reached over to move another piece and slumped over the board, collapsing into a squishy pile on the floor, groaning.

“Science is truly fascinating,” Ealth said.

Ilya Veselov
1. l3xforever
You can ignore this, but I have a secret inside info on the next books in this trilogy (yes, it is at least a trilogy):

The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Two: Dark Blood Magic
The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Three: Dream World of the Fire Wolf

Sadly, I can't say much about any dates, but at least you'll know what will come next :D
Richard Fife
2. R.Fife
My eyes, they bleed. Well played, sirs and madams.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
Why isn't book 2 out already! It's been like, all morning. What's Scalzi doing--just sitting around eating bacon!?!
Christopher Turkel
4. Applekey
I demand the sequel feature pink ponies. Sparkling pink ponies.
Christopher Turkel
5. Applekey
I will add the look on the middle man's face says it all.
6. akaSylvia
This is the only post today that has truly amused me.
Beth Meacham
7. bam
I love the foil effect on the cover.

/inside baseball comment
Melissa Shumake
8. cherie_2137
highly entertaining for all the wrong reasons... great job mr. scalzi.
10. kabdib
Second the request for pink ponies. They should sparkle, then explode.
11. William Seligman
I've only read about 1/4 of this, because I keep laughing every five seconds. I'll work through it by the end of the day, I promise.

"Blind night badger trolls..." I'm giggling again. Soon the neighbors will complain.
12. Dan Someone
So I heard that Syfy has already started shooting the miniseries, but they renamed it "DINOSHARK VS. SQUIDWOLF."
13. Terrence Miltner
Epic. Epic reading and I can't buy it soon enough. I believe you when you say it is NOT a prank. If it is, it is well played, well played indeed.
14. Sean M
You know, I would totally buy this.

Also, the list of legends on page 2 makes me wonder if perhaps the narrator might be the Dos Equis 'Most Interesting Man in the World'....
15. Mike Kranjcevich
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP (Money truck backing up to Scalzi's front door in Ohio). Apparently, it also contained the Pony and the Glitter.
16. JimC
OK, it's April Fool's Day, but oh, I so WANT TO BELIEVE...

We can only hope that the protagonist is a 600 year old katana-wielding teenager. Who is also a police detective.
17. airanw
It's like, how much more black could this night be? and the answer is none. None more black.
18. p harris
After reading, I still have a question: was the night dark or not?
jon meltzer
19. jmeltzer
"In the tradition of Jim Theis!" - Library Journal
Stacey H. H.
20. geekgirl1970
LOL! How gullible am I? I went straight to Goodreads to look for a release date. Couldn't find. THEN I came here and read the excerpt. *facepalm*
21. Jared Garrett
Bull hoggly! But marvelous writing.
22. Nightsky
But I'm already in talks for MY epic fantasy series, "The Shadowy Dragons of the Night Wars"!
23. moregrey
I nominate this for the Bulwer-Lytton Award! Anyone else vying for the award should just give it up now and consider a career change. The three volumes of this series will OWN Bulwer-Lytton!
24. Craig Stew
Where is the freaking stew?!!!! I refuse to buy fantasy novels that don't involve stew.
25. C-Rash

You seem to be ripping off my upcoming release, "The Dragon Wars of the Nightshadow." Kindly cease and desist.
26. Scott Forbes
@C-Rash: And you, sir, are ripping off my imminent epic "The War Dragons of the Shadow Knights." My lawyers will be in touch as soon as I can afford some.
Teresa Jusino
27. TeresaJusino
Awesome! :) And the photo of the contract on your blog? Nice touch. :)
Daniel Goss
28. Beren
I would read this. I would read it to death.
Adam Shaeffer
29. ashaef
Those first two sentences are impressive :-)
30. Dorian
This should be required reading. So much to learn, so well demonstrated.
31. RobinM
The Author picke the title from the decade SFF title survey Right?
Dru O'Higgins
32. bellman
Funny! But now I'm curious to find out what happens next.
33. Lawrence Person
Methinks you're trying just a wee bit too hard. A nice April Fools prank should start out with low-key veneer of plausibility to draw in the gullible. I know wherefor of which I speak:

But that opening sentence would make a fine Bulwer-Lytton entry...
36. schambers
Magnificent! I would totally buy this!
Jen Hill
37. greybon
There better be an entire chapter devoted to stew in book 2! ;)
38. NightOwl
Now for the real april's not just a spoof..the rest HAS to be written and published by tomorrow.... :D
39. David DeLaney
Compare and contrast with Lawrence Watt-Evans' contribution, The Unwanted Wardrobe, at .

40. Matthew Graybosch
This sounds like the title of a Rhapsody of Fire album. It's too cheesy for Dragonforce.
41. Filippo
Such a dark and stormy novel...
James Oliver
42. JOliver
I really hope this isn't a joke. It is terrible, yes, but I am enjoying it something fierce. I'm sad it ended.
Brent Longstaff
43. Brentus
A funny thing about this title (which was cobbled together from the most popular titles of the last decade if you haven't seen that post) is that the Ghost Recon game for the 3DS is actually called Shadow Wars.
Sim Tambem
44. Daedos
Longest. Sentence. Ever.

Smashing. Even better than Old Man's War.
Nick Rogers
45. BookGoblin
LOVE the writing, but it's the young Tony Danza holding the halberd on the cover that truly takes this over the top.
46. loydb

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons of Shannara, Book One: The Dead City
Tim Gough
47. Geckomayhem
He has a good imagination, I'll give him that. And I'll bet it was a heck of a lot of fun to write this. I wonder just how long it took? ;)
48. MHB
So help me, I enjoyed this in a very Adams-ian way. You do realize that this trilogy will actually turn out to be five books, as three would be too few to contain teh awesomez.

Bonus ponts for however many "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" references you could sneak in. And careful that writing in this style doesn't break your ability to actually write real stuff!
49. Glenhurst
The cover art looks like Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind
Luis Milan
50. LuisMilan
And here I thought that, some time ago, when Mr. Scanzi said he would write this book, he was joking.

Boy, am I happily wrong!
James Kehr
51. Jammrock
I don't think I've ever laughed that hard at a book opening before.
52. Iolar
I know shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but when I see covers that look like a childs idea of what a fantasy cover should be, it makes it easy for me to dismiss the quality of the book. Then there is the whole "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" thing.
53. Adamanta
I was so annoyed by the paragraph-long sentences that made up the first two paragraphs that I almost didn't read it! But I'm glad I did. Quite clever. But the guy on the left on the cover looks like a really gay Zach Braff.
Rob Munnelly
54. RobMRobM
Word to the wise - All reading this should pay close attention to the day this excerpt was posted.
Dirk Walls
55. dirk
This would have been funnier if the email from Tor announcing it had arrived a week ago.
Pernilla Leijonhufvud
56. Therru
Since I got the email about this a whole week after April 1st, it took me a little time to understand that it was a joke. So by the time I got that, I also got disappointed, because this was hilariously awesome (or awesomely hilarious) and I would have bought the book immediately.
57. SpeakerToManagers
Hmm ... guards on the castle walls on a dark and stormy night trading stories of supernatural portents. I was really expecting some gossip about the recent death of the king and remarriage of his widow to his brother, followed by a couple of the prince's friends getting offed while spying on him. How disappointing, Scalzi, I think you just missed a great plot there.
59. Shesomaru
Disappointed, I had expected more but found the story lacking, maybe it is due to a long work day. But I will attempt to re-read it after a night's rest.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
60. tnh
Shesomaru @59: Good idea. How does it look this morning?
Amy G. Dala
61. amygdala11
Excellent! I hope Tor didn't skimp on the pony glitter.
62. Andrew Ducker
Dammit. I would so read this.

It's reminiscient of The Colour Of Magic, or The Light Fantastic - Pratchett when he was largely engaged in taking the piss out of Fantasy.

Great Stuff!
63. veganazi
I was delighted upon discovering something new from John Scalzi. After viewing the title, I was like "Seriously?!" Then I read the date. Lol.

I would totally buy something like this, for no other reason than because John Scalzi wrote it.
64. S. Morgenstern
...and they said it couldn't be done. A sequel to The Princess Bride! Well, no. This isn't it. But it could be! Or something like that. Someone buy the movie rights of this from this kid, fast!
66. Anansii
Y'know, I think that qualifies nicely as eldritch horror. I do indeed. (snerk!)
67. shadowsong
All of you who enjoyed this should check out Penny Arcade's "Song of the Sorcelator" storyline, as well as what happened when the PA fans decided to give that storyline a backstory: The Elemenstor Saga.
Madison Brewster
68. MaddyBrewster
John Scalzi seems to overwrite on what doesn't matter and leave out the slightest bit of information on what does matter.
Bernadette Durbin
69. dexlives
"Is it an African or a European Night Dragon?"
70. Cone
This obviously needs more haberdashery description.....we don't even know what anyone was wearing!
71. Alex von Thorn
I'll wait for the movie. ;)
Clay Blankenship
72. snoweel
I'm pretty sure that is Tad Williams in the middle.
73. Stoic
This truly is a difficult read. Maybe I should turn on the light.
74. pirategirljack
75. occula
You had me at Drindelthengenflagenmorden.
76. Stepovich
...and I was so puzzled at why they'd put Tony Danza and John Malkovich on the cover.

Good stuff :)
77. >:[
I'm incredibly disappointed to learn that this is just a joke. I was hoping that this was a real book because I'm in dire need of some "so bad it's good" literature.

At least I can, to some extent, assuage my hunger via movies.

bluh bluh.
78. Touhou42
@ 69 Does it matter? Also, it's a swallow, not dragons.

Pink ponies? Of course! With lots of sparklies.

Now, we just need John Scalzi to join forces with Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchet, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan (or at least his ghost). Then, we release the movie. I'd fund it, but I'm practically broke already.

Still, pretty damn epic story, Scalzi.
79. Devout Agnostic
Quite an entertaining read, I would love to have a copy of this on my bookshelf. Hell, I might even read it if published. Barring brain hemoraging, or other unfortunate accidents.
80. YouWish
So, runnon sentences anyone? the black could be blacker because Scalzi mentions it's a "purple-Black" this just sounds ridiculous.. how ever were you published?
82. giblie
It's been almost three years and I still hope that Scalzi comes out with this. I would love to see his satirical take on fantasy :)
83. Dev Null
Not terribly believable though. Everyone knows that it is heretical and/or against the laws of physics to put any indication on the cover of a fantasy book that might hint which book in the series it is...

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