Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No Such Thing as Dragons

by Philip Reeve
Scholastic, 2010. 186 pgs. Fiction.

Ansel, a boy mute since the death of his mother, has hired on with Brock, a dragonslayer, to attend him as he follows a quest into the northern mountains. As most everyone knows, including Brock, there are no such things as dragons but there is not that much difference between a real dragon and "the fear of a dragon" so Brock makes his living making people feel safe from phantom monsters. But when he and Ansel climb the steep cliffs above Drachenburg there are unexplained noises, scattered bones, a dark figure out of the corner of one's eye, a shadow overhead, that suggests what everybody knows may not be true. A short, accessible, very scary book, No Such Thing as Dragons is unlike any other dragon story for children. In all except the obligatory hypocritical, cowardly friar, Reeve has wisely created his characters against type: the sacrificial maiden is a short, dark, bushy-browed peasant girl; Ansel is a fine boy, but not interested in heroics except as required by his deeply-held moral sense. No Such Thing as Dragons is beautifully well written--evocative, frightening, and nuanced--and the ending is completely unconventional but deeply satisfying. Graphic descriptions of violence make this book a best bet for mature fifth and sixth graders and up.

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