It's time for another Wicked Cool Wednesday!
The book I'll chat about today comes by its "overlooked" status by virtue of the fact that it came out in 2009 - not sure if there was a time difference to when the novel came out in the US vs. the UK, but it's out, and it's been out, and I haven't heard a word about it. I know very well that some of the fantasy fans in the room would really love this one, so here goes:
Y'know, it's not every day that I turn the pages of a book of high fantasy for the middle grade audiences.
For some reason, books of high fantasy in general seem to be a dying breed. Add in the age factor, and you've got tumbleweeds rolling across the plains -- high fantasy seems to be written with gamers and guys in mind, not middle grade kids, or girls.
Reader Gut Reaction: Our title is The Dragon Whisperer, by Lucinda Hare.
This book is classic high fantasy. It's got language -- it doesn't stint on those rich descriptive details, full of vivid colors, sounds, and smells. It's got unspeakable evil, and a just war. It's got heroes and heroines, queens and quislings, traitors and tacticians and ... it's like reading a middle grade version of Lord of the Rings, but with hobgoblins, gnomes, dwarves, and ...prejudice.
Eh, what's that, you ask? Yes, prejudice. Actually, there's a bit of that in the most classic of high fantasy novels, the LOTR series. You'll recall - elves wafting around being superior to dwarves, dwarves believing themselves to be superior to hobbits. The Dragon Whisperer adds human beings, which means there's hardcore issues between people. It's all dealt with - subtly. Which is A Good Thing.
There are Evil Beings in this book - there are questionable people, of course, and there are hobgoblins, which are a bit inhuman, which is helpful in differentiating Good Guys from Bad Guys. They're also kept away from the reader, so though we see their movements, we're only given to understand what's going on, a little at the time. The periodic visits to their settlement definitely up the dread factor, as the reader realizes there's Trouble Afoot before the heroine.
Overall, the story arc is good - the characters grow and change, and there's plenty of room for a sequel, yet the story episode is tied together sufficiently.
Concerning Character: Our heroine, Quenelda DeWinter is eleven, and human. She loves her father, her dashing half-brother, Darcy, and the battledragons which protect the kingdom. She has always wanted to fly with her father, who is the commander of the Stealth Dragon Services (SDS), and the Queen's champion, though her brother has shown a complete disinterest in the greater dragons, and prefers the pomp and ceremony of the unicorn guard.
The kingdom is at war with the hobgoblins, and it has been brutal. There has been much death, and many dragons have been sacrificed to the cause. Quenelda is unlike other girls her age, and wants to do something about it. The trouble is, with her flights of fancy and dreams of glory, no one takes her seriously. There has never been a girl in the SDS. Ever.
The war has left gnome Root Oakley without a family or a place. Because of his father's valor on behalf of the Queen, he has gone from being an apprentice dragonmaster for the dwarf, Tangnost, to being the esquire of Earl DeWinter's daughter. It was bad enough working around hippogriffs (squee!), griffins, unicorns, and lesser dragons, cleaning their tack, scooping up their poo, and caring for their fodder, but now he's expected to go near a battledragon -- and fly after the Earl's daughter?! She hates him! And, there have never been gnomes who ride dragons. Ever.
You see the problem...
Recommended for Fans Of...: The Lord of the Rings. No, seriously. Also, fans of the Eragon series, the Harry Potter book, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, Cornelia Funke's Igraine the Brave, Sherwood Smith's Wren to the Rescue series, Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons series, and etc., ad infinitum. will find something here to love.
Themes & Things:I've already mentioned the theme of prejudice - who we like and why is subtly put forth as an idea, and embroidered upon. Are there right "people" to like, and wrong ones? Does it matter who someone's mother was, or if they don't know? Readers will find themselves indignant at some of Quenelda's unthinking assumptions, and learn along with her how much it hurts to be on the receiving end of an assumption. The other clear theme in this book is friendship, trust, and Doing The Thing You Think You Cannot Do. Too young, too small, too weak, too scared, too hurt, too shy -- none of that matters when Right needs to be done. Real heroines and heroes have to suck it up, and step up to the plate.
Despite the myriad details going on in the books dealing with Treachery and Dark Forces, that friendship comes through as a clean and bright thing... much like in books about a boy wizard, which means this series will be doubly endearing to many.
Authorial Asides: As previously mentioned, this is Lucinda Hare's first book. A creative writer and illustrator, this Scotswoman was introduced to Tolkien at the age of eleven, and her love for that history, legend, and fantasy seriously informs this book, in a tribute kind of way that is a touch derivative, but respectful, and provides an entry into the genre for younger readers. Hare slips readers deftly into her world, and confidently pilots them through a bewildering array of names and cultures and makes it all seem easy. Through her skill, I was able to read the book in one sitting, and discover the glossary after I finished reading it.
Amusingly, the one word which wasn't defined that I had to have a moment's thought over was haar -- which I then realized I knew. It's a word that means a yellowy thick sea fog, in Scots English. I've heard that one before!
As previously stated, this book came out in 2009. A sequel, Flight to Dragon's Isle followed just last year, and is already highly sought after (there's a bit of a line) at the library (which is where I got this copy, FCC, thanks).
You can find THE DRAGON WHISPERER, and its sequel, at an independent bookstore near you!