Finished: Mar. 8, 2011
First Published: Jun. 8, 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
A single dragon swoops and glides above a ring of standing stones in the midnight-bright sky.
Acquired: Received a Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada.
Reason for Reading: I enjoy dragon fantasy and this seemed like it might be a bit different, with a society centred around the dragons.
I have to admit I thought this book was going to be about the Celts but it's not and I won't tell you what group of people it is about as it isn't given away until the Historical Note at the end. Just in case you are not up on your early history. Set in the same time period though, that of the eight century in the Orkney Islands at the tip of Scotland. The book is firmly grounded in its medieval historical setting. While no famous personages make appearances except for a passing remark about St. Brendan, the monk that myth tells us sailed the seas in a coracle, the Vikings are the looming threat to these peaceful people of the dragons.
The book starts off immediately with Madoca, a slave girl, being chosen as the new Dragon Seer apprentice and going off to live in seclusion with a small group of people who look after the Dragons. But the Dragons are really there to look after the people; they have memorized the lore, history, laws of the ancients and all that came before and through them the people can have the knowledge of the past, as they are a people without a written language. Madoca learns from the dragons, and learns how to access and use the magic of earth. She is surprisingly a powerful receptacle for the magic, much more so than anyone has seen in some time. Danger threatens the dragons from one side and the life of the people is threatened from more than one side. After only a year of apprenticeship, can Madoca save the dragons.
This is a beautiful story! The dragons are not what one expects. McNaughton has made them long, slender, agile and yet ungainly when they walk on the land. They are much more like the dragons of the East as they fly in the air and form knots together, each with special meaning. They don't breath fire, but they can speak the language of the people when taught as hatchlings. They communicate with each other, and teach the dragon seers, by projecting feelings over any amount of distance. The writing is lyrical yet simple and there is a mystical atmosphere throughout the book. Madoca starts off at 14 years of age and grows as a person through the story as her character moves through the various stages of her life, maturing and at first doubting, then accepting the important role she is destined to play in the future. The book ends in a complete and satisfactory ending making it feel as if it could be a stand-alone book, but I see that this Fall a second book will be published whether it be a companion or the next in a trilogy I can't find any information. I'll definitely be adding it to my list though.
I'm very pleased to have found Canadian author Janet McNaughton this way. I'm afraid I've never heard of her before and she has an impressive backlist of books including historical fantasy, historical fiction and dystopia. I will be making her an author to read.