Friday, May 18, 2007

Dragon Keeper, Part I

Book: Dragonspell

Series: The Dragon Keeper Series #1

Author: Donita K. Paul

Genre: Late Mid-grade (10-14) Fantasy

“Almost There,” Chapter 1 of Dragonspell

“Are ye sure ye won’t ride all the way into the city?”

Kale hardly heard the farmer’s question as she stood beside his wagonload of barley grain. Her eyes looked over the crude cart she’d traveled in and then turned to the dazzling metropolis across the wide valley. The sun sparkled on Vendela, a city of sheer white walls, shining blue roofs, and golden domes. Many spires and steeples and turrets towered above the city, but in a vast variety of shapes and colors. More than a dozen castles clustered outside the capital, and more palaces were scattered over the landscape across a wide river.

Seeing Vendela reminded Kale her life had changed forever. Her hand rose to her chest and rested on the small pouch hidden under her clothes.

I have a destiny. The thought scared her and pleased her too. After being a village slave all fourteen years of her life, she’d been freed.

Well, sort of free.

A fourteen-year-old, untrained slave girl gains unexpected responsibility to recover a dragon egg from an evil wizard.

The Writing: The deepest flaw of this book is the plotting. The first main problem is the beginning. It’s a bit rough and jerky as Ms. Paul struggles to get you established in the storyworld without losing tension. But she throws you into the middle of things so quickly that you don’t really have a chance to gain sympathy for her protagonist, which is a shame since her greatest strength is her characters. So it took me over four chapters to get into the book

The second problem is the climax. I found it rather anticlimactic and all around disappointing. While the final confrontation is logical in the growth of the character, Kale seems to solve it too easily, especially after the dangers that had gone before.

That said, the characters are absolutely delightful, to the point that they nearly overcome all plot flaws. You just can’t help fall in love with Dragonspell’s colorful cast, from uncertain protagonist Kale to mischieveous Dar with his flair for bright clothing to the playful minor dragons and the forever-sparing Fenworth and Librettowit. No matter how bad things get, someone always says or does something to bring a smile or chuckle.

The Story: Dragonspell is a delightful tale about friendship, courage, and what it means to be a servant, with clear allegorical parallels. But never does it stray into anything preachy—even when Kale gets into some pretty heavy theological discussions—and never in a way that slows the story for long.

Being a fantasy, this story does contain wizards and magic, but it’s handled in a way that’s no more offensive than Tolkien or Lewis. The magic’s source is marked as a special talent from God, much in the way the prophets and apostles attributed supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, prophesy) to Him. Also, the characters handling the magic are non-humans in a different reality: they aren’t bound by the exact same rules we are. (Think Lewis’s Perelandra: our forbidden fruit versus their forbidden island.)

Summary: Dragonspell has some disappointing plot flaws, but the characters and content make up a long distance for those failings. And while the story does contain both wizards and magic, they are handled well. Therefore, I believe that this story is a delightful read, appropriate for all but the youngest readers (under 8).

Rating: 3.7 of 5

(See reviews for Book 2, Book 3, and Book 4)


Eve said...

Great review! thanks, and welcome to CSFF

Becca Johnson said...

I've loved The DragonKeeper Chronicles since I first found DragonSpell shortly after it came out. As you stated, the thing I love most about this series is the characters! :) They're all wonderful, my personal favorites from the series being: Kale, Gymn, Dibl, Fenworth, Dar, Toopka, and Bardon.

I do agree with you concerning the beginning of the book. It did take me a little while to connect with Kale. But, once I did, I was completely in the story! :)

Great review!

Becca Johnson