I’m a sucker for a dragon story, and this one is a little different from the usual. It starts as a charming little fairy-tale, where the girl in the dragon’s lair is a spirited and smart young scholar rather than a helpless princess, and the dragon isn’t quite what he seems, either. The two strike up an unusual friendship. This part of the book was lovely, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The second half is far more predictable, and rather more uneven.
Here’s the premise: Shannon is a talented young scholar, determined to take a job as healer in the small kingdom of Regone for the perfectly logical reason that she’s the best person to heal the king from injuries sustained while fighting dragons. While there, she is pursued by the amorous knight Sir Roderick, who offers to slay a newly-arrived dragon to win her hand. To avoid this dreadful fate, she sets off to find the dragon herself, and discovers a character surprisingly interested in her books and palace gossip.
The sparky conversations between dragon and scholar are a highlight of the book, but by the midpoint, things become more conventional, and there’s a great deal of dashing about avoiding the machinations of the villain, and in general trying to stay alive. The characters devolve into stereotypical good guys and bad guys at this point. It was depressing that the spirited and smart (female) scholar took so little part in this, and it was left to men with swords, spears and crossbows to sort things out. Most of this followed conventional lines, apart from one little twist near the end, where the villain takes an unexpected action.
I would have liked a bit more detail about the setting, which was very much a generic fantasy kingdom, with the usual array of inns, forests, craggy mountains for dragons, farms and so on, not to mention possibly the worst-guarded palace ever. I’m astonished the king wasn’t assassinated in an early chapter, the way characters walked insouciantly in and out, without seeing so much as a laundrymaid, never mind a guard. I also wondered why, when dire consequences would occur if a certain character dies within a matter of hours, the other characters didn’t just go and hide until the deadline had passed.
This is a light, quick read which is entertaining for those not looking for great depth. It’s billed as YA, but it would work perfectly well for MG too. The perfunctory nature of the world-building and the rather simplistic characters would normally make it a three star affair, but the pleasure of the first half, the charm of the two main characters and the avoidance of a too-simple happy ending bump it up to four stars for me.