Patrick Ness and a New Spin on Dragons

Lynn: Just when I had decided that there was nothing new and interesting in the dragon-tales category, Patrick Ness came along with his new book, Burn (Harper, June 2020), and turned that notion upside down. I shouldn’t be surprised as Ness has a habit of giving old tropes a new look and I couldn’t be happier that he has brought his imagination to this science-fiction-with-dragons story. Wonderfully crafted and totally immersive, this is a brilliant book that completely absorbed my attention and that is saying a lot in this time of pandemic fear. I couldn’t put it down and I can’t resist saying that I burned through it.

The story begins in 1957 in rural Frome, Washington where Sarah Dewhurst and her taciturn father wait to meet the dragon they have hired to clear the new field at their struggling farm. The dragon turns out to be a rare Blue and while it appears that he works for a sliver of gold, his real reason in something else entirely. The focus shifts to a pair of FBI agents also in the area. They are tracing vague rumors of some kind of cult and a rumored assassin and arrive in time to check out a grisly murder scene. The focus shifts again to meet 17-year-old Malcolm, an assassin on a critical mission. Sarah’s family farm is the focal point of these three threads. An eons-long struggle is coming to a tipping point for both dragons and men in this and other worlds. None of the people who come together in the next few days will ever be the same.

The intricate plotting is a joy to read as all the plot points have purpose, all the relationships interlock, and every thread comes together. The characters are vivid and multi-dimensional in every sense and the world-building was exquisitely done. Incorporating the tense history of 1957, the Cold War, Sputnik, and the space race, Ness has given dragons and dragon magic a whole new spin.

Get ready for twists and turns and a wild finish! The door seems slightly ajar so I am hoping there will be a sequel and another trip possible to this universe. More, please!

Cindy: Wow. Patrick Ness is one of the most original writers we have and he delivers a dragon’s hoard in this new book. In addition to the creative world-building and the surprises in the plot (the big show down I anticipated was in the middle of the book. What?) he explores the themes of the costs of war and the tragedy in prejudice. In particular, bi-racial Sarah is shunned in town for her heritage just as her white father and now deceased mother were when they married. She has to hide her relationship with her boyfriend Jason Inagawa as the small town’s prejudice is even worse against anyone of Japanese heritage in this post-WWII decade. And then there is assassin Malcolm’s acceptance and exploration of his homosexuality, a thread that is beautifully, tenderly, and heartbreakingly portrayed. All of this while the adventurous plot spins out.

Do you really need to know more than this is written by Patrick Ness and this is the opening sentence:

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957—the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America—Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.

I didn’t think so. Get your preorder in with your local independent bookstore, pronto.

Gondra’s Treasure – Dragon Lore History and Blended Families in a Picture Book

Lynn:  Readers might be surprised if we described a new picture book for the PreK-Gr.2 set as an introduction to dragon lore, its history and cultural differences, a story about biracial families and a sweet bedtime tale all in one. But if we then revealed that the author is the talented Linda Sue Park, all would be explained. Park’s new picture book, Gondra’s Treasure (Clarion, 2019), is all of those unusual elements and more and the result is completely charming.

Gondra, a small dragon, confides that her mom’s family is from the West and her Dad’s is from the East. As Gondra goes on to describe her family, readers get an introductory lesson in dragon folklore and the cultural differences in the traditional stories. Gondra’s mother breathes fire and her father breathes mist. Her mother’s ancestors lived in caves with treasure and her father’s had a single magical pearl that could control the weather. Gondra herself is a charming mix of both and this blend is presented along with a loving banter between the parents that is both humorous and reassuring. In what is clearly bedtime routine, Gondra brushes her teeth, dons striped pajamas (with her tail sticking out)  and hauls her stuffed toy and a stack of books off to bed, asking on the way, “What happened to the magic pearl and all the treasure?”

“Oh, that’s right. We don’t need them

anymore – because I’m your treasure.”

While the simple dragon lore is front and center here, the subtle message of loving acceptance and biracial families is the sweetly told heart of this dragon tale.

Cindy: Linda Sue Park’s story is warm and tender and encouraging to children living in many types of blended families. The humor in the tale is brought to life brilliantly in Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s whimsical illustrations. Created in ink, watercolor and collage paper, they are bright and expressive and Gondra made me snort in almost every scene. Unfortunately, I produced neither flames nor mist. Sigh.

Gondra’s attempts to fly and the caution to only breathe fire with an adult present will be familiar to the intended audience who are learning new things or having to wait to learn them. Gondra’s imagination shines as she takes to a swing to soar in the air while she waits for her magic to unfold.

An author’s note explains the lore behind dragons from different regions and some theories related to dinosaur fossil beds as to how people on different continents imagined dragon stories. Or perhaps, dragons are real? Gondra makes me wish it were so.