Friday, April 4, 2008

Dragons in Our Midst, Part I: Raising Dragons

Title: Raising Dragons

Series: Dragons in Our Midst #1

Author: Bryan Davis

Genre: YA (10-14) Technological Fantasy

Excerpt from “Dragon Breath,” Chapter One of Raising Dragons:

“Halt, foul dragon!”

Billy stared at the tall stranger, a ghostly figure draped in dark chain mail. He looked like a knight of some kind, like a toy box action figure come to life. But what was he so mad about?
Could he be yelling at me?

The knight swung a sword in his right hand. Its brilliant blade flashed in the sun, and his armor jingled all over his body, echoing his swift, skillful moves. With a wave of his shield he barked a challenge. “I fear you not, fiend, nor your hellish fire! Come to battle, and we shall see whom the Creator will protect!”

Billy opened his mouth to answer, but he couldn’t talk. His throat burned like a sizzling sidewalk, and acid bubbled up from his boiling stomach. With a convulsive shudder, he belched a plume of hot, steamy gases, blistering his tongue and scorching his lips. A second later a raging river of fire blasted through his gaping mouth and hurtled toward the knight.

The warrior jerked his shield up and tucked his body behind its protective armor. The flaming torrent splashed around the shield’s edges, tearing the sword from his hand and enveloping his sleeve. The knight shook his hand and flapped his blazing arm. “Cursed lizard!”

Billy clamped his hand over his mouth and tried to suck cool air between his fingers to soothe his swollen tongue.
What’s going on? Did that fire come from me? Does he think I’m the dragon? Billy looked at his hands. They were normal, eight fingers and two thumbs, no scales or claws. But something was different. A ring glittered on his right index finger. Somehow it looked…familiar.

Two half-dragon, half-human teenagers team to defeat a slayer intent on murder.

The Writing: Raising Dragons. A fascinating story. This is my second time through the Dragons in Our Midst series, and the incredible premise continues to fascinate me. While the somewhat off-putting beginning may point to another tale of teenage angst, a whole lot more resides just below the surface, not so differently than protagonist Billy Bannister.

Set in the familiar world of U.S. suburbia, Raising Dragons brings to life the ancient myths of dragons while incorporating science and technology (even if some of it is somewhat fantastical in itself). This is then layered with a solid, biblical foundation, given a twist of Arthurian legend, and well—how can the outcome be anything but unique?

And to my joy, the actual writing doesn’t ruin this wonderful premise, as is far too often the case. The plot is especially solid: fast-paced, many mysteries, and plenty of twists, which may not be totally unexpected but still entertaining nonetheless.

If there is a flaw in the writing, for me it would be the characters. While some of them stand out (I love Professor Hamilton), the main protagonists in this book occasionally come across flat with some reactions that don’t always ring completely true. The numerous and frequently changing points of view don’t help this. So connecting with the characters may be somewhat difficult in the beginning, but it will ultimately worth it.

The Story: Raising Dragons has turned out to be even more enjoyable the second time around than it was the first time, which says much about this book upfront. There are many nuances that are easy to miss the first time through, especially since the themes (sacrifice, heroism, identity and trust) are buried a little more deeply here than in later books. But that is what makes a book worth reading again.

Because this is a novel about fire-breathing dragons and the slayers that hunt them, violence is the most common gray-area element found in this book. There’s much sword swinging, numerous attempted murders, several major injuries, and a few deaths caused in defense of self or a loved one. The last one usually occurs by burning, and is portrayed with fire, some smoke, and maybe a bad smell. As far as I remember, neither the actual burning nor the corpses are ever shown.

As for any “magic,” it explained here or in later books, often with a scientific slant.

Summary: Raising Dragons is an entertaining novel that blends legend, fantasy, and science into a fascinating contemporary tale. Highly recommend for boys and girls of this age group (10-14), with plenty to capture an older reader’s imagination.

Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

Know someone who would like this book? Order here.

(Also check out the review for book 2, The Candlestone, book 3, Circles of Seven, and book 4, Tears of a Dragon, as well as the sequel series, Oracles of Fire.)

1 comment:

Galadriel said...

Billy Banister is a typical teenage boy; trading tall tales with friends, occasionally late to class… and breathing fire. When Billy’s breath sets off the fire alarm in the restroom, his dad must tell him the truth about his past. This incident sparks a wild adventure full of unknown dangers. Together with the new girl Bonnie Silver, Billy is caught up in a centuries old danger. But how is his principal involved? And what is Bonnie hiding in her backpack? Read this book, the first installment of the Dragons in Our Midst quartet, and find out!
I loved how this book blended dragons, King Arthur and modern-day life. It made it seem like adventure may be just around the corner!