6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent adventure for its intended age group,
This review is from: Dragon Rider (Hardcover)
While reading this book I forced myself into the mind of a fourth grader, and when you're thirty-eight year old, that can be difficult. What helped me was remembering the books that I was reading at the time, and what stuck out the most was Baum's Oz series. I read and reread and re-reread and re-re-reread all fourteen of the Oz books so many times that my mother actually told me to stop checking them out of the library. But I couldn't help myself. In my opinion, there was nothing better, nothing that evoked the sense of amazement and wonder that Baum's books did.
Fixed on that, I found myself in a perfect position to read and enjoy this book. And I enjoyed it tremendously. In fact, I have a difficult time believing that anyone within the age range that this book was intended for, and who likes fantasy, would not like it because it has all of the elements of magic that a children's fantasy needs. I'm quite certain that if this book had been around when I finished with the Oz books that I would have eaten this up as quickly as I had consumed Baum's works, and perhaps even read, re-read - OK, you get the picture.
It contains so-called "fabulous" creatures, and defines them in unique and appealing ways: dragons who require moonlight for energy and don't ravage villages for food (all but one of them, at any rate); mountain dwarves whose powers lie within their hats and who can smell silver or gold; brownies who practically obsess over the eating and cultivation of mushrooms and for whom spit has magical properties; a homunculus created by a fourteenth century alchemist who speaks 93 languages (what else would you do if you were 700 years old other than spend most of that time learning); talking rats; and many more. Every one that you meet has its stereotype redefined with at least a tiny tweak so that it doesn't seem as if you are merely reading a book about creatures who already know. I think tweaking the stereotypical definitions was a terrific idea.
Then there's the quest itself. The dragons are being displaced from their home. One of them, Firedrake, offers to leave and search for the legendary Rim of Heavens where other dragons are rumored to live, and which is rumored to be beautiful beyond metaphor. To get there, the questers receive a map from a rat, who is a master cartographer, and this map is included (partially) in the book itself as a full color foldout which gives the book an added appeal.
The adventures of the questers, the questions of loyalties that arise, the manner in which issues of morality are handled all make for exciting reading. Not to mention their pursuer, who is also a dragon but of a very different kind than Firedrake. The writing of that particular character was deftly done, and that in itself is an achievement. It isn't often that the "lead" antagonist can be put on every page and not cause the story to lose any of its immediacy.
My only wish is that a little more time had been given to describing these fabulous creatures. When I think of a dragon, I immediately (like many adults who read fantasy) think of Smaug, from Tolkien's masterpiece The Hobbit. Or of any number of films and books where the dragon is so much bigger than humans. I didn't really get a grasp of how large this dragon was (or wasn't) until I was deep into the book. Since the author went against stereotypes (for example, who would have thought that a brownie looked similar to a cat?), I think this was an essential piece that was missing.
In any event, that's the worst I can say for this. Reading this strictly as an adult, I would give this three and half, maybe four stars. But reading it as a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader, I can't give it any less than 5. It is truly an excellent book for this age group. If you're a parent teetering on whether or not to buy it, do so. You won't be disappointed.
One other thing: this book was only published here in America now because of the success of Eragon. It was first published in Germany in 1997 - before even Harry Potter hit the stands. Don't blame the author for copying, as she most certainly is not. Her publisher merely thought that a book about a dragon and a rider would sell particularly well in today's "climate", and they were right.