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Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Dragon-slaying Adventure

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve

Brock, a self-proclaimed dragon slayer, is seeking an assistant, and when he stops at a local tavern, Ansel—who is mute, small, and undesired by his father—finds himself offered up for the job. Ansel takes his job seriously and believes in Brock's heroic stories, only to discover a crocodile skull hidden in Brock’s possessions and to hear him say, “There’s no such thing as dragons.” Still, Ansel honors his master and commits to the job.

As they make their way to the next village with plans to "slay the worm," they encounter superstitions and fears. Together they embark into Drachenberg Mountain with Brock's promises to return once the dragon is dead. Intending to stay a few nights and dress up the crocodile skull for show, plans are suddenly changed as they find a battered village girl, Else, and are then attacked by a living, breathing dragon!

In the end, the dragon is captured—mostly by Ansel, as it happens—and dragged back to the village before it makes an escape into the mountains once again. Through it all, Ansel finds his voice, both figuratively and literally, and he realizes he has the right to make decisions for himself and question the decisions of others.

Reeve's narrative is intriguing: as the plot progresses, Ansel faces the philosophical questions of the definition of bravery, the reasons for sacrifice, and the difference between “real life” and “stories” one’s told. Reeve has created an interesting story that flips characters back and forth between savior and villain—there is no “good verses evil” here. His descriptions are often striking, and he personifies the wild setting well.

Here's the hard part: while some kids will enjoy the extreme setting and struggle for survival as well as the mystery of the wilderness, others will get bored or lost in the narrative and wish Ansel would stop asking questions and do something. If your kids are fans of the Alex Rider series and want constant action--none of that fluffy thought-provoking stuff to slow it down--No Such Thing As Dragons is going to be a letdown. If, however, your kids embrace the humanity behind characters and enjoy fantastic landscapes with adventure thrown into the mix, it has the potential to be a hit. Overall it's an uplifting story of kinship, questioning values, sacrifice, bravery, and fantasy--well worth a try.


Age 8-12
Copyright October 2009
ISBN: 9781407115290
Image from www.tower.com

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