Thursday, October 20, 2016

No Such Thing As Dragons (Philip Reeve)

No Such Thing as Dragons
Philip Reeve
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Young Ansel has been mute since the death of his mother - and his innkeeper father doubts he'll ever be rid of such a small and useless child, until the knight turns up in search of a cheap servant. Brock touts himself as a dragon hunter, bearing a wicked scar and exotic claw as proof, and he needs a boy to tend his armor and horses and perform other menial tasks below a hero's dignity. Ansel's terrified, but he has no choice. Then Brock, knowing the mute boy can't spill any secrets, tells him the truth: there's no such thing as a dragon, but superstitious fools pay him well to chase off phantoms of their own hysteria, and the tales of his exploits earn him free board (and often free bedmates) at any inn in medieval Europe.
When Brock and Ansel arrive at the Drachenberg, however, the stories flow dark and thick of the monster haunting the icy slopes. Maybe these alpine villagers are more easily spooked than most, or less devoted to the light of God. Or maybe Brock is wrong, and there's still at least one dragon left in the world...

REVIEW: I freely admit I bought this almost solely on the title and cover, plus the discounted price at the thrift store. At first, it looked like a fairly predictable tale, one in which the "dragon" would be easily explained away... a feeling reinforced when the characters' Christian faith comes up often. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There's a little more going on than meets the eye, and faith in God isn't an automatic golden ticket to victory. Ansel tries his best to be loyal, even though he has mixed feelings about serving a charlatan, but ultimately must become his own master to endure what proves to be a very real encounter (not a spoiler - the fact that the dragon exists isn't the main twist). Brock himself never set out to be a fraud, but has rationalized his choices... only to find himself tested to the utmost when he faces the very thing he never believed possible, yet which he built his entire false reputation upon. Along the way, they encounter an outcast village girl whom villagers used to bait the beast, who is anything but a princess or a helpless damsel. Even the dragon has a bit of an unexpected story, for all that it's a beast. The story plays out on the high, remote slopes of the Drachenburg, a fierce and forbidding landscape from another age, where upstart humans and their notions of truth and logic and what may or may not exist have little place. It's a fairly fast-paced tale, with some startling encounters and lessons learned, coming to a reasonably satisfying conclusion, especially given my usual luck with Christian-themed fantasy.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Dragonslayers (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley) - My Review
Dragonheart (Charles Edward Pogue) - My Review

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