Here There Be Carbon-Emission-Eating Dragons: A YA Fantasy, High-School Reality, Urban-Fantasy Mashup

BookendsLynn: Can there be anything more attractive to young readers than dragons? High fantasy, fairy tales, humorous fantasy, legends and folklore, mythology, classical literature and even some science fiction are replete with dragons in infinite variety, and our fascination with the idea never wanes. In case you’ve missed it, there’s a new dragon book on the scene that adds a whole new dimension to dragon lore. E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (2014) is a real treat for dragon aficionados. Pinning this one to a genre is tricky. I’m coming down on the side of science fiction alternate history but Johnston has skillfully blended in some current high school reality and a lovely dollop of urban fantasy.

“Owen Thorskard, dragon slayer,
valiant of heart and hopeless at algebra”

In Johnston’s world, dragons are an indigenous species that humankind has always been dealing with. Attracted to carbon like candy, dragon populations soared after WWII and the rise of industry, and there simply weren’t enough dragon slayers around to cope. Dragon slaying was a family profession and young dragon slayers were conscripted into the Oil Watch or the Royal Canadian Mounted Dragon Slayers and after that service could take any big-city contract they chose. Rural attacks were rising and small towns were burning.

Story of OwenWhen famous dragon slayer Lottie Thorskard was badly wounded in the epic Hamilton fight, she retired and with her family moved to Siobhan’s small town of Trondheim. Lottie’s nephew, Owen, dragon slayer in training, meets musician Siobhan on his first day at the high school. Owen needs an algebra tutor, Lottie has a plan to restore the tradition of Bards and bring dragon slayers back to rural Canada, and Siobhan is recruited for both tasks. In this story, sixteen-year-old bard Siobhan McQuaid tells the story of Owen Thorskard, dragon slayer, “valiant of heart and hopeless at algebra” and their epic efforts that changed the world.

I loved this book, as much for Siobhan’s wonderful voice as for the extraordinary world-building. Both are infused with a sly humor that sneaks up on you if you aren’t paying attention, and it is the details that really set this story apart. Michigan has been abandoned to the dragons, for example, and driver’s training includes a section on dragon identification and evasion. Commentary on teen social culture, consumerism, global warming, and politics are all interwoven into this really clever alternate world. At its heart though, is a story about family, friendship, the importance of story and music, and doing the right thing.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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