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Monday, September 20, 2010

No Such Thing As Dragons, written by Philip Reeve. Scholastic, 2010. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"A growl bubbled softly, deep in the sound box of the creature's chest. The eye it aimed at him was sulfur yellow. It opened its mouth, and its teeth were icicle white and sharp as nails and its tongue was a pink spike. as it launched itself off the crag toward him, Ansel saw the long tail lash out behind it, striped like a serpent and frilled with feathers."

There is no picture, but there must be one in your mind of the terrifying meeting between Ansel and his first dragon...funny, when there is no such thing. He definitely tries to convince himself of the truth of that statement! I did not expect to like this book as I am not a fan of dragon lore; I generally leave that to Erin. But, love it I did and I found it hard to stop reading once I got started.

It is the Middle Ages and there are con men around every corner. Brock is one of them, determined to make the villagers believe that he is a dragon slayer. He is, in fact, an errant knight who has conjured up stories of his past brave deeds. On one such trip he buys Ansel, a young mute boy, from his greedy and heartless innkeeper father. Ansel is in awe of Brock but it doesn't take him long to discover the truth about his dragon slaying. Brock assures Ansel that there are no such things.

Chancing upon a village that claims there is a dragon in the mountains nearby, Brock and his team set out to find it. A nefarious Friar accompanies them, sharing stories of a sacrifice the villagers have made. They have tied a young village girl to a tree in hopes that she will appease the dragon and thus, leave them to their quiet lives. They are astonished when they encounter something evil and terrifying on the mountainside, and also find said girl. Winter, hunger, fatigue and the fearsome creature cause untold terror and much adventure.

But, it is the characters who stand out in this quick-paced, wonderfully written tale. Ansel faced two great losses as a young child...his mother and his voice. Will he speak again? Is Brock all bluster with a heart, or an evil, self-centered man with no concern for anyone but himself? Are the villagers so terrified they will do anything for the greater good, even sacrificing one of their own to protect the rest? And then, you must consider the beauty of the storytelling itself. Philip Reeve is an incredibly adept word weaver. His language is quite delectable and I often reread passages to taste those words a second time. Not enough for you? He also did the small detailed interior illustrations that accompany each new chapter.

There is nothing about this book that I did not like, except perhaps the anxiety felt in tearing through each new encounter with the dragon, the fierce weather, the harsh mountain setting. It is a ride and I loved it. There was a time when I believed the title, I am not so sure!

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