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Dragonhaven Hardcover – September 20, 2007

3.5 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up—A novel set in an alternate contemporary world. Viewing dragons as fire-breathing, non-sentient animals with gigantic appetites for livestock, humans have hunted them for centuries, and now they survive only in a few wilderness havens. Jake Mendoza has grown up at one such haven, the Smokehill National Park in the American West, and has inherited his scientist parents' commitment to the park's secret inhabitants. When he rescues an orphaned baby dragon, he sets in motion a cascade of events that may eventually save these top predators from extinction. Readers will find the book to be less about the joys of the human-dragon bond and more about the challenges of raising an infant and communicating in a vastly different language. As an exhausted Jake explains, he is the first human in history to find out that a marsupial baby dragon out of its mother's pouch still expects a round-the-clock source of food, warmth, and company for over a year. Also, their telepathic communication gives Jake and his fellow Smokehill residents debilitating head-aches, and no one on either side is ever entirely sure they've got the message right. Once readers get through Jake's overdone teenage diction in the first few chapters, they will be engaged by McKinley's well-drawn characters and want to root for the Smokehill community's fight to save the ultimate endangered species.—Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


In her customary way McKinley evokes a complete, detailed alternate reality. -- Horn Book

This engrossing fantasy is suspenseful and highly detailed...a truly wonderful read. -- KLIATT

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile; 1st edition (September 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399246754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399246753
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Erin Satie VINE VOICE on September 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
About a page and a half into Dragonhaven, I put the book down and thought to myself, "She can't really keep up this annoying first person narration the whole book, can she?" When I think of Robin McKinley, I think of measured, deeply beautiful, polished prose - with a kind of intense, crystalline quality that has always lent itself well to the fairy-tale aspect of her stories. But Dragonhaven is written in the slangy, talky patter of its contemporary teenage narrator, Jake Mendoza. And she really does keep it up the whole way through.

I did eventually grow to like it (McKinley is a wonderful writer, after all, even if this isn't her usual style), but the depth and beauty of the story seems to peek through the clutter of language, rather than channel directly to the reader through the written word. Jake narrates like somebody who is talking a mile a minute and can't stop to catch his breath, let alone go back through to edit and clarify.

The story falls into the popular urban fantasy genre - a recognizable world of today that is subtly skewed by the addition of some fantastical element, in this case the existence of dragons. Jake lives on the only dragon preserve in America, at an institute in the park dedicated to the study of dragons. One day, seemingly by chance, he finds a dragon dying in the woods - a mother dragon killed by a poacher just as she was giving birth. All but one of her baby dragons are dead, as is the man who killed her. Jake, still trying to cope with the loss of his own mother, looks into the dragon's eye as she is dying and is so moved by what he sees there that he decides to do what he can to save the last of the dragon's litter.

The rest of the book is about raising a baby dragon.
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Format: Hardcover
In my opinion, Robin McKinley's greatest strength as a writer is her ability to make the mundane magical or portentous. Her voice is lyric and moving. She used it very successfully to elevate some of her more prosaic, slower-moving books from uninspired to elegant. Her voice is what saved both Rose Daughter and Spindle's End from mundanity, and what made Sunshine and her Damar books such classics.

That voice is missing from this book.

Ms. McKinley, for the first time in her career (as far as I can see), decided to write from the perspective of a teenaged boy. I believe she really struggled to capture the rhythm and honesty of her main character. She adopted a rushed, breathless teenage boy patois scattered with adjectives like "freaking" and "cheezing" that she successfully maintains throughout the ENTIRE book.


Her story, although slow in parts, was beautiful and well-drawn. (That's why I gave the book three stars.) However, my pleasure in the story was corrupted by my hatred of her language. It distracted terribly.

Although I am a devoted McKinley fan, I probably would not have purchased this book if I'd known what I was in for.
4 Comments 53 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I have to say right off the bat that McKinley does the teenager viewpoint extremely well (which is why it's not 2 stars instead of 3), but I found it very distracting, repetitious, and so expository in parts that I skipped whole paragraphs at a time to find the story again -- just like the last book I read written from a teen-aged boy's perspective. I liked the story, I liked the setting, I liked the characters, I just didn't like the POV. It was good enough to read in one sitting but that's more a testament to the plot than to Jake's recounting. A big disappointment.
2 Comments 45 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Robin McKinley has long been and still remains one of my favorite writers. Most of her books are marketed to a YA audience but are equally enjoyable by adult readers. While this her latest was intriguing, it failed to engage me on a deep emotional level. I kept saying to myself, 'Well now that is interesting', but without being moved. Perhaps it was because she was using the voice of a teenaged boy, a creature I have never been. In any case, I felt the book was worth reading, but I didn't love it. Too bad; I usually love her books.

One more comment, and this to the publisher of the hardback edition, at this point the only one available. This is quite simply the shoddiest binding I have ever seen on a hardback book. Even paperbacks are generally put together with more care than this was. There is nothing supporting the signatures of the book. I am careful how I handle my books, and my copy literally fell apart in my hands before I had even finished reading it. Shame on Putnam. Respect for the author and reader alike should require better workmanship.
6 Comments 36 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
This is not another cutesy story about telepathic dragons. This story is about how anybody ever succeeds in communicating. McKinley is remarkabley convincing in her teenage protagonist and his first person story.

The concentration on the theme of communications is what makes this different and intriguing. The narrator's constant attempts to find ways to tell us, the readers, the story are echoed in his attempts to reach the dragons. It is rare to find such a clear portrayal of the difficulties of presentation and interpretation of information and ideas between truely different parties.

Language shapes how (and what) people can think. Concepts exist in some languages that are unthinkable in others. Languages reflect what is important to their native speakers. That is what we refer to in the old example of all of the various words for snow and its different conditions in the Eskimo tongue. Anyone who has attempted to do translations from one language to another is familiar with the problem.

How we might communicate with an alien species must be, at heart, a speculation on what they would find important and worthy of description and of contemplation. I find it quite believable that the dragons of Shadowhill would think so differently from us that interpretation or translation would be virtually impossible. McKinley makes it clear to us how inadequate our language is in this process. She shows us how perhaps the only way such a communications chasm might be overcome is by having infants and children reared 'bilingually'.

McKinley's prose has, in past, been impressive. Clear, evocative, moving, frequently poetic.
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