Tuesday, 17 January 2012

There’s No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve: Penny Dolan

Opening a book by a favourite author is a mixed moment. Will it be as good as other titles or differently good – or just that tiny bit disappointing?
This book doesn’t at first suggest a brave new idea.  It is set in a kind of classic mid-European past and its hero is Ansel, a mute unwanted ten-year old boy bought as a servant by Brock the Dragon-Slayer, a man with a touch of faded glamour about him.
As gentle, likeable Ansel follows Brock, he discovers that Brock hides a supposed “dragon skull” in his baggage. He is confidence trickster who has never yet seen a dragon and now he is off to fleece those who live in the villages below the legendary Drachenberg mountain.

Reeve’s adults are not entirely nice people. The village already has a “saviour” in the form of Father Flegel of the red leather boots, who claims to keep the dragon away by the power of his prayers although the villagers have also made their own plans.

As Brock and Ansel set off on their climb, accompanied by the unwilling Flegel, the mountain and the quest reveal their treacherous nature – and of course there is a dragon.

The story is told in smooth, secure prose that supports the young reader even as it offers plenty of excitement, danger and a magnificently described trek across icy summits.

But what makes Reeve’s book so very satisfying to read – and why I am recommending it - is the way that at almost every point of the plot, he turns the traditional moments of quest and heroism kindly but wittily from dull expectation to sharp comment on the diffrence between dream and reality.

“Here Lies Arthur,” was Reeve’s novel for young adults about heroism but “There’s No Such Thing as Dragons” examines the same matter delightfully for the 9-12 year old child. It’s a tale that’s well worth reading and would be good for reading aloud. The illustrations are by the author too.

I read this novel without the slightest sense of disappointment and am very, very glad of that. Hope you enjoy it too!
Penny Dolan


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