Nathan is shocked to learn that his father is dead, and even more shocked to learn that he died in the line of duty as a dragon slayer. Everything he thought he knew about his father was a lie. But he has no time to think about what it means before he is whisked away to the Alexandra School of Heroic Arts to train as his father’s successor.
At school, Nathan and his new friends soon learn:
Dragons are not what they thought.
Neither is the schoolmaster, Claus Drachenmorder.
And Nathan’s dad might not be dead…yet.
Nathan and his friends escape from school and embark on a journey through the mountains to find Nathan’s dad. To succeed, they will need to survive the dangers of the mountains, evade Drachenmorder’s henchmen, seek the aid of the dragons, and unravel an international ring of wildlife smugglers.
I found this YA/MG story fresh and well executed. The New Zealand setting was well conveyed – not only the landscape, but cultural references, and the generally cooperative and helpful vibe among the characters. Not that there weren’t antagonists – there definitely were, and there was conflict and tension, and conflict even within the team at times – but the general feeling was that any new person you met was more likely to be friendly and helpful than not. Also, the main character wasn’t ever formally appointed as the leader, and for a long time the group didn’t appear to have (or need) a leader, making decisions by informal consensus. This is very much Kiwi culture.
I appreciated that the kids, even the boys, didn’t feel the need to be emotionless and staunch, and that the losses they’d all suffered were treated realistically and shown to matter. The central group were well drawn, clearly distinct from one another, and all brought important contributions to the table; all of them stepped up when needed, even whiny Ella. I also appreciated that there were two girls in the core team, who were very different from one another, and two people of non-European ancestry.
The kids were believable as kids, and the actions they took were also believable as things (unusually heroic and sensible) kids could and would do.
There were a couple of big challenges to my suspension of disbelief, but I don’t know if they’d bother the main target audience of middle-grade readers. Firstly, that the existence of dragons up to 30 metres long has been successfully hidden up to the present day, and secondly, that dragon-slayers only get trained once their parents die (and are sent to training as soon as their dragon-slayer parent dies). The latter seemed to be in there not because it made any sense as a rule in itself, but simply to set up the scenario of the dragon-slayer school and the characters being sent there. But everything else was so well done and flowed so well that I was willing to overlook that one.
The ecological thread is strong and clear without being preachy. Overall, highly recommended.
I received a copy of this book for review through the SpecFicNZ review programme.
This book review is by Mike Reeves-McMillan and originally appeared on Goodreads.. Mike writes the Gryphon Clerks novels, a series featuring heroic civil servants and engineers doing their best in a difficult world; the Auckland Allies contemporary urban fantasy series, about underpowered magical practitioners stepping up to defend their city when nobody else will; and the Hand of the Trickster sword-and-sorcery series, in which a servant of the trickster god exalts the humble and humbles the exalted. His short stories have appeared in a number of professional and semiprofessional venues, including the Terry Pratchett tribute anthology In Memory.