Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review - The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.

There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition.

But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected.

Such was Trondheim's fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds—armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard.

Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!

I have read several alternate-world novels, but they have all seemed forced to me, and never really piqued my interest. Not so with Johnston's debut novel (and don't you just love when an author's first novel hits it out of the park? Guaranteed spot on my "order everything by" list!)
Johnston imagines a world just like ours - but, with dragons. Not newly arrived dragons, not always-there-but-hidden dragons, but dragons which have been here as long as people, and which have helped shape our history. Remarkably, but believably, that history is not all that different from what you may find in your textbooks - it was just shaped so by dragons (Buddy Holly's airplane, for example, went down when attacked by such). There are some larger differences - dragons being attracted to carbon emissions and large bodies of water, Michigan is pretty much a no man's land now.
Along with music and sports stars, this world also has dragon slayers to offer for hero worship. Most are under contract to large corporations and stationed in large metropolitan areas (after their four years mandatory government service, of course). Dragon slaying is traditionally a hereditary profession, and many slayers don't live long enough to have very many children, so the pool is dwindling rapidly.
One can imagine the excitement, then, when one of the most popular dragon slayers decides to semi-retire, WITH her dragon-slaying family, to a small town in Canada. This is where the tale begins, and it doesn't stop moving until the final page. Between exciting battle scenes, often humorously related, there is political maneuvering (also humorously related), character development, bonfire parties, music composition, fun teachers, intrigue, internet conspiracy theories, and blossoming relationships (but - spoiler alert - the two main characters do NOT fall in love, which is enough for me to put Johnston on my always-buy list all by itself!)
This does not seem to be set up as part of a series, and while my brain often imagined the screenplay as I read, there were parts that would make me shy away from that as well. No, this is simply a strong, stand-alone, enjoyable read that should be an easy sell to readers of any gender over the age of 12. A must purchase for high school libraries!

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