Saturday, July 28, 2007

Review: Dragon's Keep

Another book I read on an airplane this summer was Janet Lee Carey's Dragon's Keep. And, thank goodness. Dragon's Keep kept the nerves away as we bounced through the Midwest on the edge of a thunderstorm in a tiny CRJ.

Dragon's Keep is set on a fictional Wilde Island in 1145. Carey explains why the setting is significant to the story in an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations:

"I faced a number of challenges with Dragon's Keep because I wanted the fantasy to be set during the time of England's civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. The story takes place on Wilde Island, a fictitious English prison colony, but the historical events occurring in England are significant because the central character's mother is convinced Princess Rosalind will wed Empress Matilda's son. The conflict of England's civil war mirrors the mother/daughter conflict on Wilde Island and the dragon's interference heats things up all the more."

Told from Princess Rosalind's point of view, Dragon's Keep begins as Rosalind's mother, Queen Gweneth, trims the nail on the fourth finger of Rosalind's right hand. Rosalind is nearly of marriageable age and the Queen has big plans for Rosalind--that she'll become Queen of England as predicted by Merlin himself. The only problem is Rosalind's fourth finger. It's a dragon's claw.

The Queen attempts to cure Rosalind by hiring all manner of healers and Rosalind is subjected to brutal treatment. The claw is dangerous not only because it could hurt Rosalind's chances for marriage, but also because the colony has been terrorized by a dragon for years. Moreover, it seems as if the claw is cursed: anyone who catches glimpse of it dies within a day.

When the envoys from Empress Mathilda arrive and kill the female dragon who has feasted off Wilde Island, Rosalind's life changes overnight. First, she finds herself drawn to the young dragonslayer, a boy named Kye. Second, while at the celebratory feast, she helps the male dragon save a clutch of dragon eggs, for it turns out that the dragon claw gives Rosalind the ability to communicate with the dragons and the female dragon's partner seeks her help. Rosalind finds herself charged with saving the dragons and Wilde Island.

Dragon's Keep is an exciting tale and Rosalind a true hero. Not only is she brave and ready to take action, but she also sacrifices her own safety and comfort on the behalf of the people of Wilde Island. Most impressive is the feel of Dragon's Keep. Carey has brough 1145 to life for young readers in all its vitality, darkness, and brutality.

Dragon's Keep is highly recommended for children ages twelve and up.