This is the lamentably dull and inauspicious debut of an author who has gone on to become one of DAW's more prolific practitioners of fantasy. The story details the quest of Jaylor, a undisciplined magic student, and Brevelan, a pretty young witchwoman, to protect the last remaining fertile female dragon in the land of Coronnan. Coronnan is the only country on an island continent that has access to magic, something created by dragons and which trained magicians can then "gather" from the dragon nimbus, which, according to Jaylor, is just "in the air and ground around us." Dragons, being indigenous to Coronnan, ensure that the magic they generate is only used for the good of the land, and indeed, all of Coronnan is surrounded by a magic border that ought to be impenetrable. But there are certain magicians capable of rogue magic, and at least one of them has it in for dragons, blaming them for isolating and stagnating Coronnan as a culture and a people (he may have a point; Coronnan doesn't seem like the most bustling and exciting place around). Dragons have even recently been killed, a heretofore unthinkable crime, and the border is weakening.
Radford has since gone on to write many more novels in several series, so I can only hope she's gotten better. The Glass Dragon stumbles because Radford is still struggling with the ability to draw you into her story with the sort of romantic adventure-oriented talespinning one expects from fantasy. Some passages are written with acceptible professional competence and nothing more. A few are rich in wonder and mystical imagery. Overall, the novel is weak in suspense and dramatic tension; Radford does her best to convey a strong sense of conflict but it doesn't really grip you. Our arch-nemesis Krej doesn't seem to be motivated by anything you could consider truly evil. He just wants to rule (yawn), and as for his magic, well, turning a full-sized dragon into glass is more nifty than scary.
On the good side, Radford does develop a trio of sympathetic heroes. Though they might not generate quite the degree of reader devotion one might have towards characters like, oh, Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter, Jaylor, Brevelan, and Darville are likable and grow moreso as the tale shuffles along. Their growing relationships to one another are conveyed in a heartfelt way (despite the fact Radford's dearth of original ideas prevents her from avoiding the love-triangle cliché), and will keep some readers engaged where the plot fails to do so. Supporting characters, though, barely register a 1 on any reader's Richter scale.
But even when she's doing her best, Radford can't help but hamstring her tale with weak dialogue or outright banality. There are entire chapters given over to conversations, the purpose of which is nothing more than to explain backstory (you would expect a more skilled writer to introduce backstory less obtrusively). And part of this backstory is an age-old cliché: we get the hint that the people of this land are — shades of Darkover and Pern — the distant descendants of space travelers. Even Radford's magical concepts sometimes get the unintentionally-silly treatment; it's a nice character touch to have Brevelan capable of communing with animals, but, following a scene in which Brevelan has had a particularly painful experience empathizing with the death agonies of a squirrel being killed by her wolf familiar, Radford demolishes the mood by having Jaylor straight-facedly utter the howler "Did you know that squirrel?" Radford also ill-advisedly comes up with an all-purpose swear-word for her characters, and it completely throws you out of any mythic sense you might be experiencing when someone inanely blurts out "S'murgh you!"
Radford, to be generous, does have some fairly good ideas she is trying to convey here; the idea of tying the survival of Coronnan to the survival of the dragons could be seen as a worthy metaphor for our need to coexist harmoniously with our environment and the natural world around us. But Radford just doesn't quite have the chops to carry something like this across. I will acknowledge Radford's debut doesn't show she is entirely without promise. But even given the allowances one ought to make for first-time novelists out of basic fairness, there's really nothing at stake here, and nothing to interest anyone who isn't the kind of fantasy fan who simply must read any book with the word "dragon" in the title.
Followed by The Perfect Princess.