Ancient, Strange, and Lovely
As a kid, I loved Susan Fletcher’s “Dragon’s Milk” books, so I was pleased to see that she’d revisited the series in her newest novel. The books tell complete stories and can be read in any order, but this one is definitely the last chronologically; it’s set in the near future, which means that in order to protect her newly hatched ‘dracling’, 14-year-old Bryn has to contend with poachers, cryptozoologists, and internet bloggers rather than more pseudo-medieval baddies. (Even in the new setting, the draclings are as cute and charming as ever; the author really had me worried about this little guy.) I enjoyed the new twist on the series’ motif, though — entirely as a matter of personal taste — I wasn’t quite as hot on the extremely modern first-person narrative. I’ve read enough of her books to know that Fletcher can write at a slightly more elevated level, but precision and expressiveness of language were at times sacrificed to the modern teen idiom. Still, Bryn’s voice felt authentic, and young readers are likely to find her narrative voice relatable.
As is conventional in kids’ action-adventure stories, Bryn gets constantly caught up in situations in which she must lie, steal, and break minor laws in order to protect her dragon and avoid capture by self-serving antagonists. And, of course, she is unwilling or unable to solicit the help of any adults during most of her escapades. (Her parents, it’s true, are out of the picture, having disappeared into what may be mortal danger themselves.) A clever “save the dragon, save the world (maybe)” motif lends extra importance to Bryn’s mission, which may help to justify her illegal behavior (though since Bryn herself doesn’t know about the dracling’s world-saving potential, it’s not a very good excuse for her). When it comes right down to it, though, we all want Bryn to save the dracling primarily because it’s just so cute! In any case, Bryn’s less-reputable actions aren’t portrayed as especially glamorous, so I doubt kids will immediately set out to emulate them.