Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , ,
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on February 3, 2009.)

Once upon a time, there was a prince who lived in an isolated forest/mountain kingdom. His mother had recently died thus making the king very sad and at the same time very protective of his only family. But the prince chafed and the king reluctantly allowed him for a solo trek through the realm. But whether through chance or fate, the prince had instead met a dying dragon - a dying mother dragon, with one of her dragonlet still breathing...

Well, not really. While the premise sounds like a typical high-fantasy dish, let me assure you it is not. The "kingdom" is an American forest park - think Yellowstone - in a modern world very similar to ours. The "prince" is Jake Mendoza, the teenage son of the Park Director. And while dragons are real, they are more or less treated ordinarily, an endangered species yes, but nothing that biologists and the rest of the scientific community couldn't explain.

Now if you think that is all there is to this story, then you don't know how adept Robin McKinley is in writing fantasy.

The fantastic and the mundane, the magical and the normal intertwine in this wonderful story. The story of a boy and his extraordinary "pet" may had been the stuff of many children's book and movies ("Free Willy" was the first thing that came to mind, then Naomi Novik's equally wonderful "Temeraire" series was the better second) but Ms. McKinley placed a fresh new twist to it. By making dragons commonplace and familiar in Jake's world, she had instead (and perhaps deliberately) emphasized their uniqueness to us readers who are bereft of dragons in OUR world.

The most contentious of the tools that Ms. McKinley used was the one many other readers claim made the book horrible - her use of the first-person narrative form. The assumption was that Jake was forced to write about his experiences with the dragons a few years back and that any way of writing his memoir will do, despite his lousy (to put it mildly) writing style. And yes, there are times that I can't blame them since Ms. McKinley might have put the laid-back tone a little too far sometimes. For example, I can't believe that a 22-year old guy (at the time of the supposed writing), someone who had supposedly aced all his high school aptitude exam, use the word "amazinger" in any way possible. Not to mention wasting a few pages botching up his explanation of how "dragon telepathy/language" works (don't ask, I don't understand it myself).

Yet it was strange that many people can't get past the writing to see the gem that is the story itself (just goes to show some people can be quite anal-retentive about what they think should constitute good writing *shrug*). Despite taking me aback for a few pages at the start, I do think the relaxed tone of the first-person narrative/memoir was quite charming. And this may be because Jake is one of the most charming hero I've read in a while. In fact, all of the characters are very believable, including the dragons themselves.

All in all, I've finished the book with a warm fuzzy feeling and a general goodwill of all creatures on earth - dragons or no dragons. Five Stars.



Oh, I'm on a Mckinley-high and it's not helped any by your fabulous review! I just finished Rose Daughter, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Now I want more of McKinley! I guess Dragonhaven should not be far behind in my list. I want to feel warm and fuzz, too!

Thanks for the thumbs up! :)

I didn't realize Robin McKinley have another retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I only know of her first one, entitled Beauty (http://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Retelling-Story-Beast/dp/0060753102). You might want to check that out too!

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