Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review of The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

Knudsen, Michelle. The Dragon of Trelian. Candlewick Press, 2009.

Calen is a mage's apprentice whose master - the palace mage - seems to think he's only good enough for errands and busywork. Meg, known formally as Princess Meglynne, is a middle princess with a big secret that she can't tell anyone in her family. When they accidentally meet, Meg knows that she can trust Calen - and brings him to the cave where a young dragon, already the size of a horse, has made his den. Jakl has linked with Meg's mind, a rare, marvelous, and potentially dangerous situation - and if that weren't problem enough, dragons are feared and hated in Meg's kingdom of Trelian for a number of good reasons.

After Meg and Calen discover a plot to assassinate Meg's sister Maerlie and her soon-to-be-husband Prince Ryant, the son of the king of the neighboring kingdom Kragnir. After overcoming some powerful magic, employing both Calen's blossoming magical abilities and Meg's link with Jakl, the plot is foiled - although the plotter, a scarily ambitious secret mage who is in a position of power in Kragnir, manages to escape, presumably to make Meg's life miserable another day.

This was a perfectly adequate fantasy, and kids who enjoyed Angie Sage's Septimus Heap books (which this reminded me a bit of, what with friendship of young mages and princesses) will certainly like this book. I enjoyed it myself, but only in the mildest of ways. It is written in a straightforward style that is perfect for kids who are new to fantasy but doesn't do much to transport the reader into another world. The dialogue is uninspired and doesn't allow the reader much insight into Calen and Meg, although their ease with each other is obvious. Worse, many characters tend to intone or proclaim in wooden tones - the worst offender is the evil Sen Eva, who speaks like a b-film villain most of the time.

There isn't much detail provided about many aspects of Meg and Calen's world. How does the magic work? The face tattoos required of all mages as they learn their craft are fascinating - I wanted more details like that about where magic comes from and what is done with it. What is Trelian society like? What are its chief imports and exports? How big is it? How does it differ from Kragnir? What do Calen and Meg look like? I know, that shouldn't matter, but it does to me. And how do Calen and Meg get catapulted magically to a strange land? And where is that land, anyway? And what's with those scary screaming horned things??

All these questions kept throwing me out of the spell of the story, and as a result it never really gripped me. It has many of the elements of a fine fantasy, but doesn't delve deeply enough into them to suit my constant fantasy jones, and the holes in the plot and the sketched-in setting frustrated me. I had to force myself to finish it.

A pleasant but undistinguished fantasy for ages 9 to 12.

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