Friday, June 15, 2012

Mini-Review: Dragonhaven

Slogging through the archives, I found this review from October of 2011 that I had written but never published. I polished it up a bit, and here it is now. I tried to keep as much of the original review as possible, which is why the review still has last year's formatting for the book information and signature.

by Robin McKinley
Start Date: 23 September 2011
End Date: 28 September 2011
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 20th 2007 by Putnam Juvenile

Summary (from Goodreads):
Jake Mendoza lives at the Makepeace Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies in Smokehill National Park. Smokehill is home to about two hundred of the few remaining draco australiensis, which is extinct in the wild. Keeping a preserve for dragons is controversial: detractors say dragons are extremely dangerous and unjustifiably expensive to keep and should be destroyed. Environmentalists and friends say there are no records of them eating humans and they are a unique example of specialist evolution and must be protected. But they are up to eighty feet long and breathe fire.

On his first overnight solo trek, Jake finds a dragon—a dragon dying next to the human she killed. Jake realizes this news could destroy Smokehill— even though the dead man is clearly a poacher who had attacked the dragon first, that fact will be lost in the outcry against dragons.

But then Jake is struck by something more urgent; —he sees that the dragon has just given birth, and one of the babies is still alive. What he decides to do will determine not only their futures, but the future of Smokehill itself.

In Dragonhaven, the strongest point for me was the voice of the main character, Jake. The writing doesn't sound like an adult trying to write in a teen's voice; it sounds exactly as a teen like Jake would sound in his circumstances. Because the reader was able to get inside Jake's head in this way, I found it very easy to connect with him. However, he is not an inherently likable character, and if I hadn't connected with Jake, I can see how it would be difficult to find redeeming value in the book.

The main turn-off for those who might already be frustrated with Jake is the pace. The story moves along at a very leisurely pace (although not nearly as slowly as McKinley's most recent book, Pegasus) and the chapters are quite long, so it's difficult to find a good stopping place.

By the end, I was ready to wrap up the story; after 200+ pages even I was getting a little bored of it, but, somehow, it just didn't end. The epilogue went on for nearly 50 pages! Once I actually finished the epilogue I could see why McKinley chose to end it where she did, but the ending, along with much of the book, could benefit quite a bit from some major cutting.

Overall Thoughts
Even through the slow bits, however, I never considered putting the book down. The story drew me in, and I was stuck with it until the end. I did ultimately enjoy the book, but I hope McKinley's future books are a little leaner. 

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