Wings of Fire: Moon Rising

moonrisingby Tui T. Sutherland
First sentence: “The volcano was restless, and so were the dragons in the NightWing fortress.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Wings of Fire, The Lost Heir
Content: There’s some violence, and a couple of dragons are seriously hurt. But other than that, I’d give it to a confident 8 year old reader. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

If you’ll notice, this is book SIX in the Wings of Fire series and I only read the first two. I have issues with series that go on and on and on, and I lost interest with this one pretty quickly.

However, this is like the second series in the larger story. The narrative shifts from the Dragons of Prophecy in the first book to the second generation after the war (there was a war? Okay then.). There are attempts to build a peace between the dragon clans (tribes?) and one way to do this is to have them all come together at a school to live and learn to get along.

Moon is a NightWing, one of the least trusted dragon clans (tribes? breeds? I don’t know what they’re properly called.) and Moon is an outcast among them. She was basically raised in the rainforest rather than in their volcano, and because of that (well, it’s because she was born under the moons) she can hear other people’s thoughts as well as seeing visions of the future.

When she’s dropped off at school, her mother tells her to keep her gifts secret. Except someone is trying to kill other dragons. And she’s hearing this mysterious voice inside her head of a dragon everyone thought was long dead. What’s a dragon to do?

It worked well as a stand alone, which surprised me. Sure, it’s the start of another adventure, but you can come in to this series on this one and not be utterly lost. Other than that, it’s got pretty much all the standard boarding school tropes: Moon feels left out, she makes friends, friends leave her when she reveals her differences, they end up working together to solve the problem that Moon’s difference plays a crucial role in.

It wasn’t all sorts of brilliant writing, but it’s a good, solid, fun story.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

dragonsguideby Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
First sentence: ”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s short, there are lots of pictures, and the words aren’t terribly difficult. It’s a great bridge book between beginning chapter and middle reader, and good for ages 7 and up. It’s in the middle reader (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Miss Drake, a dragon who has been around a long time, is happy with her lifestyle. Sure her “pet”, a human she calls Fluffy, recently died and she is grieving that. But when another human, the 10-year-old great-niece of Fluffy (aka Great-Aunt Amelia), comes into her life, she is not at all happy with it.

And thus begins the relationship between Miss Drake and Winnie. Sure, there’s a little adventure with a magical sketchbook and a rabid magic-eating monster, but mostly it’s about overcoming grief of the death of a loved one (Winnie’s father has recently passed away as well) and making friends.

My favorite thing is that it’s written from the dragon’s point of view. Beginning each chapter is a word of “advice” to magical creatures about how to deal with their “pets”, but the narrative is from the point of view of a very old, somewhat cranky dragon. It’s a clever take. That, and it’s blissfully short. Yep and Ryder know their audience, get to the point, and don’t bother putting in a whole lot of backstory. There are clues here and there about Miss Drake’s former pets and Winnie’s family (I’d like to read more about them in other books!), but there are no long-winded passages, no extra words. It’s refreshing.

My  only complaint is that while there is a child character, the protagonist (and the one who propels the action, in the end) is the dragon. And that felt a little off. But other than that, it’s an enjoyable story.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

Dragons Beware!

by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Giants Beware!
Content: There’s nothing that a capable third grader couldn’t handle, and I would have willingly read this aloud to a second- or first-grader. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

There are a few graphic novels that my girls — especially K — will go to over and over and over again, thoroughly immersing themselves in the story each time. Giants Beware! is one of them, and so when I brought home the sequel every single one of my girls was super excited. (K wins, though. She practically grabbed the book out of my hands and ran off to read it.)

And none of us were disappointed with the story line. After “slaying” the giant, Claudette, Gaston, and Marie have basically gone back to their lives. However, things have changed: Claudette is still trying to prove herself to her father and is living it up as a hero in Mount Petit Pierre. Marie has been locked in a tower by her mother, her princess lessons intensified, with a camp of foppish princes at the base. And Gaston (who my heart went out to) decided to give up his love, cooking, and try to be more like his father and sister, determined to be a warrior and a blacksmith.

Then ?, the wizard, escapes from his prison, and heads toward Mount Petit Pierre, bent on revenge. Claudette and Gaston’s dad takes off for ? to get his sword back from the dragon ?. And, of course, Claudette, Gaston, and Marie follow him.

A quick aside: one of the running themes throughout the book is that it’s really quite impossible to do something on your own. EVERYONE (well, maybe except Gaston and Marie) in this book starts off thinking that they need to protect everyone else and just do things on their own. But, in the end, it’s only together that they succeed. I loved that.

Of course, there are adventures on the way. I don’t think you need to have read Giants Beware (though why haven’t you??) before you read this one, but it is better if you do know the story, if only to get the little illusions dropped throughout the book. I love how it’s paced, with epic battle scenes at the end, and everyone playing a different role. Which is something else I loved: Gaston finally stops trying to be what he thinks he “should” be and embraces his passion. Marie is awesome in her own way: she’s not a warrior, but without her, they wouldn’t have succeeded. And Claudette learns patience and a willingness to work with others. They’re all better off for their adventure.

It was an absolutely delightful read. Hopefully, there will be more!

Shadow Scale

by Rachel Hartman
First sentence: “I returned to myself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Seraphina
Release date: March 10, 2015
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: It’s pretty complex, when it comes to keeping tabs on everything that’s going on, and it’s fairly long and slow-moving as well. It’s also more mature in its sensibilities, though there’s not much else that would put it in the Teen section (grades 9+). Even so, that’s where I shelve these.

There’s so much going on in this novel that, much like Seraphina, it’s kind of difficult to put all of what’s going on down on paper. (Or the internet, for that matter.) On the one hand, this is a straight-forward road trip: to help her friend Glisselda, who is now queen of Goredd, Seraphina goes on a quest to find the other ityasaari — those who are half-dragon, half-human. She feels that, if she gets everyone in one place, they’ll be able to create a mind-field to keep the renegade dragons out of the city. Seraphina initially thinks this will be a simple task: go into the surrounding countries, locate the ityasaari, get back to Goredd and they will all live happily-ever-after.

Thankfully for the reader, it’s not that simple. There are obstacles in Serpahina’s way, and not least of all is Jannoula, an abused, embittered, scheming ityasaari who has the ability to manipulate the humans (and dragons) around her. She is there every step of the way, adding conflict, tension, and suspense to Seraphina’s path.

Also like Seraphina, there’s much to love about this one. Hartman’s world-building is impeccable, and it’s fantastic to see what she’s done with the other cultures, religions, and people surrounding Goredd. The romance that was budding at the end of Seraphina is still here, but it takes a back-seat to Seraphina’s journeys and allows Seraphina to become her own strong woman independent of anyone else. That said, there’s some surprises by the end of the book, ones that I thought were thoroughly refreshing.

Speaking of the end, about two-thirds of the way through, I worried that Hartman wasn’t going to wrap up the story, but she pulled through. In classic high-fantasy style, she gives us an epic and truly fantastic ending, one that is thoroughly satisfying while staying true to the story, characters, and world she built.

Hartman is truly a writer to keep an eye out for. Whatever she touches is just amazing.

The Lost Heir

Wings of Fire 2
by Tui T. Sutherland
First sentence: “Underwater, Webs couldn’t hear the screams of dying dragons.:
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Dragonet Prophecy
Content: There’s some dragon violence — a few battles, some one-on-one fighting, and a baby dragon egg is smashed — but other than that, it’s pretty low-key. It resides in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

When we last left our dragonets — the five dragons that were taken when they were eggs and raised by the Talons of Peace to stop the war that’s been going on for too long — they had escaped their captors/guardians and were setting off to find the clans. They’d interacted with the Mud Wings, to some dissatisfying results, and been captured by the Sky Wings (and their bat-crazy queen), but got out of there. Now they’re headed to the Sea Wing palace, presumably because Tsunami, one of the dragonets, is the queen’s daughter. They figure they can find refuge and protection there.

Except — probably predictably — things aren’t what they seem. Sure, Tsunami’s mother, Queen Coral, is happy to see Tsunami. But she’s not very happy to see Tsunami’s friends, and shoves them off to a cave. It’s slowly revealed that Queen Coral’s not a little crazy. And that there are traitors in the midst. And that Tsunami doesn’t fit in as well as she thought she would.

I’ve decided — partially because books three and four are already out, but also because it just makes sense — that the purpose of each of these books is not only to tell an overall story, but to highlight a specific tribe of dragons. And in that latter purpose, Sutherland does a fantastic job of creating an individual world. The Sea Wing palace and world are fascinating — they have their own language that involves flashing stripes, which is pretty cool — and even though Tsunami starts out as a complete brat, she develops into a fairly confident leader by the end. What I found myself growing impatient with was the overarching plot of the war and the prophecy. The menacing posturing by Coral’s friend Queen Blister, the suspicion and automatic mistrust of the Talons of Peace.

I’ve not disliked this series, and it’s perfect for those who enjoyed Warriors or Guardians of Ga’hoole. But I’m probably not going to keep reading. I just don’t have much interest in the overarching storyline.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

Wings of Fire

The Dragonet Prophecy #1
by Tui T. Sutherland
ages: 10+
First sentence: “A dragon was trying to hide in the storm.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

The dragon war — the fight between three sisters for the Sandwing crown — has been going on for years, wreaking havoc on the kingdoms. The only dragons — as far as the prophecy goes — that can change everything are the five dragonets spoken of in the prophecy. Who have, conveniently, been in hiding, guided by members of the Talons of Peace, for the past six years.

Clay, a Mudwing, is one of those dragonets, and he (for better or worse) has no desire to be a fighter, or to Change the World. He just wants to be with his clan — Tsunami (Icewing), Sunny (Sandwing), Glory (Rainwing), and Starflight (Nightwing) — and to hide from everything. Well, maybe he does want to meet the parents he was snatched from all those years ago. But when things come to a head in the underground caves, and Tsunami propels them into escape, Clay (and his clan) will find out that things are a lot more Dangerous and Ominous than they thought.

This was a lot of fun. The whole prophecy-as-a-copout thing aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the world that Sutherland created. There’s some very despicable dragons to root against, and the dragonets (collectively, though I really liked Clay) are worth rooting for. I liked the complications of politics, the throwbacks to Roman times, and just the whole dragon thing. It’s not as good a dragon book as, say, Seraphina, but then it’s aimed at an entirely different audience. And for that audience, it works immensely well.

Quite good.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

The Last Dragonslayer

by Jasper Fforde
ages: 12+
First sentence: “It looked set to become even hotter by the afternoon, just when the job was becoming more fiddly and needed extra concentration.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by my place of employment.

Jennifer Strange, 15, is just an indentured servant running the Kazam Mystical Arts Management in the wake of owner Mr. Zambini’s disappearance. No, it’s not easy managing a group of magicians whose magic is slowly fading, but she’s managing.

Then one of her magicians has a vision: Maltcassion, the last dragon, is going to be killed at noon on Sunday. By the last dragonslayer. Which happens to be Jennifer.

On the one hand, this little book is classic Fforde (granted, I’ve only read one other of his books): witty, slightly odd, with a tendency for clever names. The story is… intriguing… and interesting alternative history (The Ununited Kingdoms, for example, where Jennifer lives in the Kingdom of Hereford, under King Snood). But, while it’s whimsical, it’s also… odd. I’m not sure quite why I feel that way, just that while I thought the oddness worked in The Eyre Affair, I don’t think kids will get the oddness. Now, to be fair, I may be underestimating the 12-year-old British magic fans out there, but it just felt like a grown-up novel slightly whitewashed in order to make it suitable for kids books.

And while the story is passable and somewhat entertaining, I’m not sure that’s enough to offset the oddness of the book.

Seraphina

by Rachel Hartman
ages: 13+
First sentence: “I remember being born.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: July 10, 2012
Review copy provided by my place of employment.

I should get the gushing out of the way first: I have read books about dragons, some of which were really clever, but I have never seen dragons like this.

And that blew. me. away.

I have struggled with how to sum this novel up, but am completely at a loss. There is so much going on, much of which is best left to be discovered as you go, that a summary is almost impossible. This is what I can tell you: the main character is Seraphina, a sixteen-year-old assistant chief musician in the castle. Except she has a secret, one that will cost her her life if revealed. The country is Goredd, which has been at peace with the dragons for forty years. It’s a tentative peace, one which is hanging by the slimmest of threads. There is prejudice against the dragons rampant in the populace of Goredd, a fire that is barely constrained. And so when Prince Rufus is found beheaded, it’s everyone’s — from the military down to the common people — assumption that the dragons did it, and there are people calling for blood.

And then there are the dragons. They walk among the humans, as humans: learning, teaching, advising, observing. Granted, they stand out to the humans; dragons are more rational, less emotional, mathematically minded, and not at all spontaneous. But, even though they are differences, it’s their ability to mimic humans that is the root of all the prejudice and terror in Goredd.

Really, that’s all you need to know to start. Know this as well: this is an excellent first novel. It’s a rich, rich world that Hartman has created, full of religion, politics, romance, music, and action. And while it works as the start of a trilogy, it also stands on it’s own, bringing the story arc to a satisfying conclusion, while leaving threads open to pursue in later books.

But really, read this one for the dragons. You’ll never see them like this again.

Calling on Dragons

by Patricia Wrede
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Deep in the Enchanted Forest, in a neat gray house with a wide porch and a red roof, lived the witch Morwen and her nine cats.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there
Others in the series: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons

It’s about a year after Cimorene and Mendenbar got married, and things are afoot in the Enchanted Forest. Again. (Yes, it is the wizards. Again.) This time, Morwen was clued into the problems by a six-foot-tall rabbit named Killer. Things get a little trickier when they — Morwen, the cats, and Killer, of course — get to the castle to find out that the wizards have stolen the sword that the magic of the Enchanted Forest is tied to.

Unfortunately, that means Mendenbar (unfortunately, in A’s opinion) has to stay in the forest, while everyone else (including Killer) goes off to find the sword and get it back from those nasty wizards. They end up on a few adventures, and in some interesting pickles. Eventually, the six-foot-tall rabbit ends up a six-foot-tall blue floating donkey with wings, but that’s neither here nor there, really.

In fact, that’s kind of what we thought of this book, as well. A lost interest in it; even though I read it out loud to her, she bailed about 2/3 of the way through. And the ending — which practically requires you to read book 4 — was highly irritating.

We should have bailed at the last book, but now that I’ve come this far, I think I’m just going to have to read the next one just to see how it ends.

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One

by Bill Willingham
ages: adult
First sentence: “Once Upon a Time…”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

The fairy tale characters we all know and love — from Snow White and Price Charming down to Jack (of Beanstalk fame) — have been exiled from their country, driven out by “The Adversary.” They’ve been living in New York City (well, the ones who can pass for human, anyway; the rest are exiled to a farm in upstate New York) for centuries, trying to be happy with their living.

In the first of two books in this deluxe edition, “Legends in Exile,” it seems Rose Red (Snow White’s sister, if you didn’t remember) has been murdered. Her boyfriend, Jack, finds the scene and races to tell Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf, of course, who turns out to be a bit of a shapeshifter), who takes on the investigation. Snow gets involved, not only because Rose is her sister, but because she’s the mayor’s (King Cole) deputy, and as a result, really runs the community.

It’s an intriguing premise, this. It’s a halfway decent murder mystery (I didn’t figure it out; I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details), and what Willingham (and his team) have done with the characters is interesting. But what I really liked was the world-building here. There’s a lot of conflict just within the community, and the fact that they’re in hiding just intensifies those conflicts. It was fascinating. But what I really liked was the second book, “Animal Farm.”

In that, we get to see the non-human characters (the three pigs, the three bears, some dragons and other assorted woodland creatures). They’re sick of being forced into their farm prison for the sake of the community’s security, and want to not only overrun Snow and their government, but want to go back and take their homeland back from The Adversary. The revolution is run by Goldilocks, who is quite ruthless in her vision and execution. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, and it hooked me on the series.

Except: my library is missing all the books between this one and Arabian Nights, so I’m quite at a loss where to get the next installment. I’ll have to do some research…