Middle Grade Fantasy by Susan Fletcher
Series: The Dragon Chronicles #1
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
[Note: I’m trying to get caught up writing reviews for books I’ve read over the past few days. Here’s hoping I can do it without losing track of what I’ve finished since.]
This is one of those classic younger fantasy books that I don’t think holds well for readers outside that target audience. Having come to it new rather than nostalgic or “the right age” I feel like I missed out. In that respect, I’m glad that I have a copy for my children to enjoy and later be super nostalgic about.
Kaeldra reminded me of the majority of my reading at around seven to nine years old. She’s ostracised to a mild extent by her people and even family (mostly her stepmother) because she is somehow Other. In her case, having green eyes. This position in her society is in spite of a lifetime of trying to win people over. When her younger “second-sister” Lyf contracts vermilion fever, their grandmother sends Kaeldra to retrieve milk from a dragon. That spirals out as the world’s hatred of dragons presses other people and forces to act.
Structurally, the book is fine. It’s about what I’d expect from a well-loved children’s fantasy of this age. The writing style is kind of floofy and overwrought. Lots of attempts to be fancy, replacing common terms with high fantasy made-up-ery. The story does some interesting things with the character arcs, and the ending is good as well as happy.
Tonally, the book is actually kind of a mess. Kaeldra takes on the charge of the baby dragons (called draclings) after [their mother is killed by dragon slayers.] While she is on the run trying to keep these baby animals fed and unharmed, she is buffeted from both sides with bad behaviour and its effects. Where one might have expected to see a Humans Are Evil narrative, there are actually quite a lot of nasty things that the dragons cause to happen which could arguably justify the widely held belief that dragons are bad and unwanted.
However, the bad things that dragons cause to happen are never really examined to a satisfying degree. Maybe there was a sort of assumption that “they’re animals/babies, you can’t blame them for doing these things” but it never says that. Nor does Kaeldra herself seem to believe it. When they do bad things, she is horrified. But they don’t face any consequences, and the people who want to kill them have reasons like, “because dragons should just die” and “I need their dismembered bodies for my own purposes.” The dragons also shouldn’t be able to get away with “they’re just animals, as they’re intelligent and speak, after a manner.
Still, it’s a story about a strong young woman overcoming adversity and terrible danger to help others. She learns to own and be proud of who she is rather than forcing herself to conform to what others wanted her to be. I love that when she was first trying to conform, there was nothing but refusal of acceptance from her stepmother and the clear message that conforming would not help Kaeldra to obtain happiness.