Posts tagged ‘dragons’

The Last Dragonslayer

I waited so long to post this review because I was on the Cybils committee the year this was a finalist, and I didn’t want to post it immediately after the results were announced.

Last DragonslayerTitle: The Last Dragonslayer
Author: Jasper Fforde
ISBN: 9780547738475
Pages: 287 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt an imprint of Houghton Mifflin, c2012.
Cybils Finalist for Middle Grade Fantasy

Once, I was famous. My face was seen on T-shirts, badges, commemorative mugs, and posters. I made front-page news, appeared on TV, and was even a special guest on The Yogi Baird Daytime TV Show. The Daily Clam called me “the year’s most influential teenager,” and I was the Mollusc on Sunday’s Woman of the Year. Two people tried to kill me, I was threatened with jail, had fifty-eight offers of marriage, and was outlawed by King Snodd IV. All that and more besides, and in less than a week. (intro)

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the manager, receptionist, booking clerk, and taxi service for Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, soothsayers, shifters and other “mystical artisans.” Originally slated to serve as an apprentice but taking over after the owner mysteriously disappeared, she has little authority with her employees. Business is literally dying as magic is drying up. Most suspect magic is tied in some way to the dragons that have been held in reserves meant to keep the peace between humans and dragons. Rumor and premonitions predict the immanent death of the last surviving creature, and possibly the death of magic as well. Jennifer sets out to save the company and her position, the only things she values, before Big Magic brings unwanted changes and possible war.

This was a book that I enjoyed more with a second reading than I did after the first. It’s not something I would give rave reviews for, but still something I would recommend. Readers are thrust into the story with little introduction, and the fast pacing and detailed descriptions make it difficult to catch up with what’s going on originally. There are a lot of complex satirical themes that recommend itself to teen or tween readers, such as capital and corporate gains, political maneuverings, and legal wrangling that are used to manipulate events one way or another. Jasper Fforde handles all these angles with skill, but I’m just not sure how well I could summarize them when recommending it to readers without revealing too much. There’s a somewhat anticlimactic twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and still don’t fully understand the magic involved in its resolution. I think my favorite part of the whole story was the characters. Jessica is a no-nonsense, independent thinker who comes to her own resolutions and holds to her beliefs in a community that is corrupted by greed. The book doesn’t have the fight sequences that you would expect in a book titled The Last Dragonslayer but for people who want a unique fantasy with some social commentary mixed in, this is a good place to start.

The Lost Heir

Lost HeirTitle: The Lost Heir
Series: Wings of Fire #2 (Sequel to The Dragonet Prophecy)
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Illustrators: Dragon illustrations by Joy Ang, Map and border design by Mike Schley
ISBN: 978054534919
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2012.

“Why did you do that?”
“Oh you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”
“By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.
“Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.
“What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.
“We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”
“Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”
“Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.” (16)

Tsunami has always imagined her homecoming like a fairy tale, and once she discovers that she actually is a SeaWing princess, she is even more determined to meet her family and see her kingdom. Maybe her own kind would appreciate her more than the dragonets, who seem to be questioning her leadership skills after the recent events and fighting with the Skywings. Upon arriving home though, Tsunami realizes that home is not a safe place, as the heirs to the throne continue to be killed by an unknown assassin. When her own life is threatened and she faces growing distrust towards her mother’s advisors and allies, Tsunami begins to wonder if maybe she is better off with her fellow dragonets of prophecy, but will she figure out who to trust in time to save her friends and family.

Fans of the first book in the series will find much of the same. Now that we’ve been introduced and readers are getting to know the dragons individually, it’s marginally easier to tell them apart. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t find myself flipping back and forth between the guide, the prophecy, and the part I was actually reading to keep the alliances straight. It was just being reintroduced instead of being revealed for the first time. It’s like getting introduced to a friend’s family at an event. The first time you meet the whole crowd, your head is spinning, but by the second or third time you start making connections–about who’s a cousin and an aunt or a grandparent or siblings–and saying to yourself “I remember that.” Hopefully, by the end of the series the characters will become more familiar to readers in that same way.

I enjoy how the author is featuring each dragon in their own book. We get to focus on more insular events instead of trying to grasp a nationwide war. I have a feeling each dragon is going to get their own book, and I’m especially interested to see how each dragon’s opinions differ from each other as we come to distinguish them from one another. There’s no denying that Tsunami is bossy, and discovering she’s royalty only augments her feelings of entitlement. But she’s also conflicted, especially when it comes to her own behavior and actions and how she is seen by others. She rationalizes her feelings in order to try to gain and keep her relationships, but her people pleasing, especially when it comes to her mother, just leaves her feeling out of sorts. It’s a story about not just who you can trust but whether or not you can trust yourself.

The mystery is intriguing and Sutherland sends up several red herrings before revealing the cause of the dragonet deaths. We also get little glimpses of what is going on with the resistance, and hints of a “back up plan” if the dragonets don’t succeed. What exactly Tsunami and her group are supposed to do, readers are still as clueless as the dragons. I’ll be continuing the series to see what happens and how events develop.

Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted VioletTitle: Iron Hearted Violet
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780316056731
Pages: 424 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2012.

Violet didn’t notice that there was something…odd about her reflection in the mirror. If she had been paying attention, she might have seen that her reflection did not–as reflections typically do–mirror her movements and vanish into the limit of the mirrored space.
No. Her reflection remained.
It remained.
And as Violet–the real Violet–reached the end of the hall, wiping her tears away as she did, the reflection in the mirror–the wrong Violet–spread its lips into a cruel yellow grin. (63

There are whispers in the castle. Whispers of a thirteenth Old God, when only twelve are taught and talked about. There are whispers of war between the neighboring kingdoms, but especially from the Mountain King of the North. There are whispers that real princesses are beautiful, just like in the stories. Everyone, including Princess Violet, knows that Violet, the only child of the King and Queen to survive childbirth, is not beautiful. And there are whispers of a dragon, the first one to be seen in a century. All these whispers culminate into a deafening roar of war as forces beyond Violet’s control begin to influence her, her family, her friends, and even the castle itself. Will the ancient entity locked away all those years ago finally break free?

The book starts off slowly, intentionally building suspense as readers are privy to events that Violet, her friend Demetrius, and the rest of the characters are not aware. Reader’s will have a much more complete picture before the characters piece it together. The other odd point is that the castle’s story-teller is telling the story, but we so rarely get input from him that it’s almost jarring when asides get thrown in at random moments to contribute even more foreshadowing. The foreshadowing we do receive from the story could not have been known by the story-teller. Does that make sense? It almost would have worked better without the story teller’s asides or input.

That small quibble aside, I liked that Violet was NOT a pretty princess. Readers get to see a princess, of all people, have insecurities about her looks, and the very obvious message that looks don’t matter gets nailed home at the end. Fans of the movie Brave might see similarities between Violet and Disney’s frizzy-haired princess. The dragon isn’t your stereotypical dragon, although there are so few books now showing fierce, fire-breathing dragons that I wonder how stereotypical that idea is anymore. The slow seep of evil that begins to permeate the story, setting, and characters was probably my favorite part, as characters in the story didn’t notice the changes and affects until it was “almost” too late. I’d recommend this for the patient reader who is willing to let the story develop and isn’t put off by the lack of whiz-bang battles.

The Dragonet Prophecy

Dragonet ProphecyTitle: The Dragonet Prophecy
Series: Wings of Fire
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Dragons Illustrator: Joy Ang
Map and Border Design: Mike Schley
ISBN: 9780545349185
Pages: 304 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2012.

Clay clenched his talons under the water. They had to be talking about Glory.
“Well, I’m not doing it,” Webs said.
Dune shot him a withering look. “No one thought you would.”
“Even though this is all your fault,” said Kestrel. [...]
“So how and when,” Dune said in his no-nonsense military voice. “Drowning would be simplest.” He glared at Webs.
“I joined the Talons of Peace to stop killing dragons,” Webs said. “I won’t argue with Morrowseer, but I’m not doing it myself.” [...]
“I’ll do it tonight while she’s sleeping,” Kestrel said. “I can get in there and break her neck before the others know what I’m doing, especially with the bossy one safely chained up.” [...]
Clay had heard enough. He sank down below the surface and swam toward the gap in the wall.
What do we do? What can we do? What can I do?
There’s no time.
How do I save her?

Clay and four other dragons have been living under a mountain for years in the hopes that they were meant to fulfill a prophecy and end a war between the dragon clans. After Clay overhears his caretakers threatening to kill one of his friends because she doesn’t fit the prophecy’s specifications, the five dragons make an escape attempt. Their attempt is foiled almost immediately, and their separation and capture puts them in an even more dire situation. As their entire lives are called into question, doubts begin to surface about their abilities and loyalties to each other. If one of them dies, will the prophecy ever be fulfilled?

Readers picking up this book need to be patient from the beginning. What begins as a slow start quickly turns into a confusing situation, with five dragons, each a different breed and with different abilities, being cared for by three caretakers, also each a different breed of dragon and with different abilities. There are seven types or breeds of dragon total, but two of the breeds aren’t involved in the war, although they are represented by two of the young prophecy dragons, and one prophecy dragon was a “substitution” and isn’t mentioned in the prophecy at all. Sutherland tries to make it easier for readers by opening with “A Nightwing Guide to the Dragons of Pyrrhia,” but for the first third of the book I found myself flipping back and forth. The dragons are sometimes referred to as type and not by name, so getting them straight takes some effort. And is anyone else confused by the cover, which has the series name in BIG BOLD font, and then the actual title of the book looking like a subtitle?

Once you get into the story and the young dragons have been captured, it gets a little better, but only a little bit. I do like the different attributes given to each breed, some of which are explained by the end of the book. The whole premise of the prophecy is a little sketchy simply because of the slow start, but I’m assuming with book number two we’ll get more details about what the young dragons intend to do in order to save their world. It brings into question the whole aspect of destiny. Does choosing these dragons put them on the path to fulfill their destiny, even if one is a “substitution?” Friendship is also a major theme in this book, as the dragons’ loyalty to each other is called into question, and they must play up their strengths and weaknesses to help each other.

The book has some violence that I think sensitive readers might be bothered by, especially when we encounter the gladiator style fighting arena. The callousness of some of the dragons is also eye-opening if we think of them and their relationships in human terms. This behavior might ring truer to character if we compare the dragons to other wild animals and how they act, which actually makes sense considering Sutherland is part of the team of writers responsible for the Seekers series. I do appreciate the fact that the dragons are the main characters here, as opposed to most fantasy when they are merely secondary or supplemental (think Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, or Christopher Paolini). Overall, the quest and multitude of characters and species brings to mind Lord of the Rings, and complicated fantasy fans would more than likely enjoy the developed characters and unique setting. I know that’s why I’ll be reading the second one, since spending all that time figuring out who was who would be a waste otherwise.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Narrator: Janet Song
ISBN: 9780307746047
Pages: 278 pages
CDs/Discs: 4 CDs, 4 hours, 57 minutes
Publisher/Date: Random House, Inc., Listening Library, c2010.

Living with her mother and father in a small and sparse mountain village, young Minli toils with them over the land to yield the bare minimum of food. Minli enjoys listening to her father’s stories of dragons and the Old Man on the Moon, but she can’t block out her mother’s discontented sighs for greater wealth. Taking it upon herself to improve her family’s fortune, Minli sneaks away from her home in search of the Old Man on the Moon. Her journey is anything but easy, as she encounters magic around every turn that test her strength and resilience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the narration. Janet Song does not distinguish the character voices so they are instantly recognizable. Instead, her soothing tone makes you feel like you’re being read a bed time story or sitting around a camp fire with your family. It’s an intimate experience where you can envision she’s talking right to you, and I thought she was a perfect choice for this story that’s essentially a string of inter-connected shorter stories. This book is perfect for bed time reading as the sections are quite short and snippets can be read as desired or as time dictates.

While I absolutely loved the audiobook, readers of the physical book get an extra treat with author Grace Lin’s beautiful illustrations. The jacket art is just a preview of her skills, as each chapter is preceded by a line drawing of an object or event portrayed in the story. Interspersed amongst the chapters are full color illustrations that portray in vivid detail the scenes described. You can apparently buy prints of these illustrations from the author through etsy, like this one, which is one of my favorite:

Grace Lin weaves these stories together effortlessly, as one segues into another and they all come together at the end. The alternating points of view give listeners and readers a glimpse into not only Minli’s perspective, but also takes turns showing us the thoughts and feelings of Minli’s parents and other characters, including a dragon. This gives readers a connection to all the stories. A wonderful, understated gem of book that sparkles from the inside, it has a satisfying happy ending that is a result of unexpected actions.

I hope someone used this Newbery Honor Book for their Summer Reading program of One World Many Stories, because this would have coincided well with that theme.

Voices of Dragons

Title: Voices of Dragons
Author: Carrie Vaughn
ISBN: 9780061798948
Pages: 309 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, c2010

A deep, short growl echoed above her. She rolled over and looked up. She was in shadow, and a dragon hunched over her. A real dragon, close up. Two stories tall, a long, finely wrought head on a snaking neck, and a lithe, scale-covered body. It was gray like storm clouds, shimmering to ice blue or silver depending on how the sunlight hit it. Its eyes were black, depthless black. [...]
They regarded each other. Her heart was racing, getting ready to burst out her ears. The trouble she was going to get into over rock climbing by herself was nothing compared to the trouble she was going to get into over this. This . . . this was epic trouble. She waited for the thing to eat her. (6-7)

However, seventeen-year-old Kay Wyatt got lucky, because the dragon does not want to eat her. Instead, the two strike up an unlikely friendship, with Kay crossing the forbidden border between dragons and humans that had stood unbreached for 60 years. Kay struggles to keep her rendevous a secret from her law enforcement parents, her best friend, and her budding boyfriend. But escalated activity causes unease in everyone’s mind, and this friendship might be in jeopardy as sparks fly and a war threatens.

First off, let me just say that the cover is GORGEOUS! The pose, layout, and even the color choice remind me a little of the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie poster from a few years ago. But it’s extremely eye catching, with what I assume are dragon scales serving as a border along the cover, and the glowing light behind the model engaging the viewer.

I liked the premise of the book. Dragons are living peacfully on what could be compared to Indian Reservations, designated land set aside for their use. Humans patrol the border, preventing anyone from interfering with the uneasy peace that was established after World War II. I say uneasy peace because dragon drills are done every year, with kids practicing ducking for cover in doors and staying away from the windows. That part reminded me of the nuclear bomb drills that they had during World War II, where it really wouldn’t help much in the event of a real occurrance, but it least it comforts people to know there is a plan, no matter how futile.

I was engaged in the story while reading it. Kay is a likeable enough character who faces pressures from her friend, Tam, to find a boyfriend and have sex. She slowly and cautiously develops a relationship with a long time climbing friend, Jon, in the beginning for the sole reason to have a date for the homecoming dance. Readers however see very little of their relationship, as Kay spends a growing majority of her time getting to know the dragon and Tam’s boyfriend leaves town with his family as problems increase. Tam is also relegated into the beautiful/popular/sexy friend position, and although she and Jon come through for Kay in the end, I wish we had seen more of her when she wasn’t attached to her boyfriend’s face.

Kay’s interaction with the dragon is thrilling to read about, probably satisfying dragon fans like readers of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series, Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series, or Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall series. The physical description of the dragon is detailed, but the dragon could have used a little more character and personality at times. In this same manner, the reading was a little slow at times, with Kay’s internalized dillema and point of view monopolizing the plot. I think alternating view points would have greatly helped the pacing of the book. However, the ending almost guarantees an eventual sequel, which fans will want to pick up but I think most readers will feel indifferent about.

The Titan’s Curse

Title: The Titan’s Curse
Author: Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Book #3)
ISBN: 9781423101482
Pages: 312 pages
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion Books, c2007.

“No!” Annabeth yelled, and she charged at the monster.
“Get back, half-blood!” the girl with the circlet said. “Get out of the line of fire!”
But Annabeth leaped onto the monster’s back and drove her knife into his mane. The manticore howled, turning in circles with his tail flailing as Annabeth hung on for dear life.
“Fire!” Zoe ordered.
“No!” I screamed.
But the Hunters let etheir arrows fly. The first caught the manticore in the neck. Another hit his chest. The manticore staggered backward, wailing, “This is not the end, Huntress! You shall pay!”
And before anyone could react, the monster, with Annabeth still on his back, leaped over the cliff and turmbled into the darkness.
“Annabeth!” I yelled. (26)

Annabeth, Percy, and the newly restored Thalia head off to help Grover, who has discovered not one but two new half-bloods in a remote school. Upon arrival they enter into combat with a manticore, who forces Annabeth over the cliff. She isn’t the only one who is missing, as Percy, Grover, Thalia, and the Hunters head out in search of a kidnapped goddess. But Percy’s dreams plague him with visions that they’re walking straight into a trap, one which not everyone is going to survive.

Rick Riordan has continued the high-octane adventure that he started with The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters. Some romance might be blooming for Percy, and we’ll have to see how that progresses as I have mixed feelings about these developments. Now that most of the big twelve have had interaction with Percy, Riordan is moving on to more obscure myths, like Talos, the Garden of Hesperides, and Ophiotaurus (which I had never heard of). And because Percy is such a newbie to this whole concept that myths are real, the pace of the book is not slowed down by the exasberated demi-gods explaining everything to him and the readers. I like how Riordan takes a cue from Homer and does not describe Aphrodite. Percy says that “Thinking back on it, I can’t tell you who she looked like. Or even what color her hair or her eyes were. Pick the most beautiful actress you can think of. The goddess was ten times more beautiful than that. Pick your favorite hair color, eye color, whatever. The goddess had that.” (185)

I think Riordan had a little too much fun with when the group ends up visiting the Hoover Dam.

“Let us find the dam snack bar,” Zoe said. [...]
“I could use some dam french fries.”
Even Thalia smiled at that. “And I need to use the dam restroom.” [...]
“I want to use the dam water fountain,” Grover said.
“And . . .” Thalia tried to catch her breath. “I want to buy a dam T-shirt.” (208)

Younger readers might not get the joke, or might start using the word inappropriately, but middle schoolers will certainly find the humor. He also does a great job incorporating Annabeth into this scene, even if she’s not physically present, with the gang spouting off statistics that they have learned through Annabeth. Annabeth’s parents all make an appearance, and although her father and step-mother are not quite what I expected. To be fair, I’m not sure what I expected, but her father’s role in the final battle make up for my surprise.

I think I also appreciate the fact that even thougth there is this prophecy that might pertain to Percy, which I can’t help comparing to Harry Potter’s prophecy, it’s very open as to what exactly will end up happening. With Thalia present, there was the possibility that Percy wasn’t the “chosen one”. Even by the end of the book, Riordan has worked it out that there’s still no certainty when it comes to these things, with one big surprise at the end.

The one complaint that I have is that a lot of the plot and information is revealed in dreams and prophecies, and it takes a lot of the guess work out of Percy’s quest. I think I would have enjoyed it more if Percy and the gang would have had to investigate these events a little more. All in all, a good plot, a solid addition to the series, and a resounding lead off for the next book. I feel certain (and it’s not just becuase I read the sneak peek in the back of the book) that Rachel Elizabeth Dare is going to play a bigger role in the adventure. Did anyone else notice that her initials spell RED, which is the color of her hair?


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