Author: E. K. Johnston
Publisher & Release Date: Carolrhoda LAB, March 2014
The Hook: Musician becomes bard to a dragon slayer-in-training.
The Lowdown (from jacket): “Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.
“There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition.
“But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected.
“Such was Tronheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds – armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard.
“Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!”
Overall Impressions: Loved it, loved it, loved it. I loved the narrative voice, the family units and friendships, the world Johnston created.
Siobhan (our narrator) spins and weaves the story so well. I was fascinated by the bits of history -the ones that have become part of the cultural narrative- the tragic story of Michigan, the unrelenting persistence of Queen Victoria, the beginning of the Oil Watch, the tragedy of the burning oil wells of Kuwait. The decline of the bardic tradition.
You see, fossil fuels may be a tasty treat, but dragons need protein as well, and people and livestock hanging out near delicious dessert – that’s just handy. Hence, dragon slayers. Who don’t actually seem to have any special slaying powers but come from family lines stretching back as far as human records go. It’s all in the training. (And probably good genetics?)
The title of the book says this is Owen’s story. But Owen does not really change during the book. He is a Dragon Slayer (technically an apprentice to his father and aunt) and believes in his aunt’s vision, and his future is essentially set. The person who changes, well, the people who change are Sadie and the other students, the people around the Thorskards, as dragon incidents grow more and more in number.
Lottie’s vision is for dragon slayers to begin returning to the smaller towns and rural spaces, and to slay dragons to protect their communities rather than for a big contract. And for the people who live in the communities to stand with their dragon slayer rather than considering her or him a celebrity to applaud, constantly critique, and follow like paparazzi.
Dragon slaying is not without cost. So begins and ends the book.
The Highs: The partnership between Lottie and her wife, the smith Hannah, in everything from dragon fighting to helping raise and train Owen to cooking to their dream of what dragon slaying could return to.
Siobhan and Owen’s friendship, the easy rapport they develop, and the friendships they form with other students, including Sadie. And I love how Sadie evolved, how she was never what I expected.
The long history of male and female dragon slayers.
The closeness of the various families – Siobhan and her parents; Owen and his father and aunts; Emily and her father.
For such solemn cover art, this book made me laugh a lot.
In an American book, I expect football references. Since it’s a Canadian book, we get hockey references and soccer and track participation. It’s awesome.
Well, I’m not sure if this is a buzzkill or not, but Siobhan hints at a greater story for Sadie, but it isn’t told here. On one hand, I’d like to read it. On the other, this book felt like a complete world, and I don’t know that more needs to be told.
(And I did wonder why this world hadn’t explored renewable energy options more, though some people did drive hybrids. Maybe it just didn’t fit into the story? Or maybe I was so into the story that I read right over it?)
The Source: Library book.
Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a broadsword was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.