Monday, December 22, 2008

Book review: Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley

Here's another Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novel from Robin McKinley, Dragonhaven (which I know Friend of the Blog AnnaB read recently - whadja think of it, AnnaB?). I think this novel is more uneven than The Blue Sword, a little tougher to read, but ultimately engaging and entertaining, especially for those of us who have long loved literary dragons (I completely read my library out of the Pern books growing up).

Set in the 5 million acre Smokehill National Park (Wyoming), Dragonhaven is narrated in the first-person by young Jake, son of the director of the Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies at the Park. You see, there's dragons in them thar hills - huge, flying, fire-breathing, endangered list dragons. Dragon conservation is a hot topic all around the world and Smokehill is one of the last places on the planet that protects them.

Jake, a lonely and odd teen-aged boy, thinks he may want to be a Smokehill Park Ranger when he grows up and on his first solo overnight deep into the hills, he finds (a) a dying dragon, (b) a dead poacher and (c) one newborn dragonlet, just barely alive. Accustomed to working with orphan animals at the Institute's zoo, Jake rescues the baby dragon and his life - and the lives of the devoted Park and Institute workers - will never be the same again.

Since the book is written as Jake's first-person ramblings (his father has asked him to put down his experiences with Lois, the dragonlet, on the record), we are quickly brought into everything the boy is feeling: terror, sadness, responsibility, panic at the sudden responsibility, exhaustion, excitement, love. What's tough is when Jake moves away from the straightforward narrative towards the back end of the book and gets swept up in philosophical discussions about Man vs. Dragon, dragon intelligence, the metaphysics of communicating with the dragons, etc. Obviously the ramblings are meant to show the reader how the protagonist struggles mentally with his new life, but I found that it bounced me out of the story from time to time.

McKinley has populated Dragonhaven with memorable and funny characters, both human and animal, and she makes some insightful (yet not preachy) points about conservation and the nature of mankind. This book is smart and fun and if it occasionally gets bogged down in esoterica, the rest is good enough to warrant forgiveness.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're spot on. Good story, great characters, but the ending wandered a bit. I laughed out loud several times throughout, but I don't think the narrative style is for everyone since it does bounce around quite a bit.
    What's funny is I was going to recommend this book to see what you thought, but of course I forgot. Looks like I needn't have worried!