Hello readers and welcome back to my life! Today we have another review pre-release review from Curiosity Quills Press, the YA fantasy ACNE, ASTHMA, AND OTHER SIGNS YOU MIGHT BE HALF DRAGON, by debut author Rena Rocford. With a title like that, how can I not read it?
DRAGON is a fun book. It’s been a while since I’ve read something solidly pegged as YA fantasy, but I can totally see my 12-year-old self enjoying it, with the modern spin on mythical creatures, slightly snarky main character, and adventure through the American Southwest. Example of the voice and a sentence I quite enjoyed:
The inside was everything a limousine should be, and I was everything that should not be riding in one (223).
My adult self appreciates the lack of wishy-washy waffling in the beginning of the book. Too many Chosen One/Special Person narratives try and hide the main character’s quirk or identity, often with lots of whining and overdone speculation. (Looking at you, WHEEL OF TIME) You’re the main character, we get it, you’re Special. DRAGON admits this and moves on in the first chapter, correctly recognizing that the fun part isn’t the speculation, but rather the shift in world-view and character development after the reveal. In this kind of story I would much rather discover the consequences of the Thing instead of wondering if the main character is the Thing.
This isn’t to say that DRAGON lets all the secrets out of the bag immediately, there are still details to discover as the book bounces on. Actually, I think it would have benefited from more exposition earlier in the book. I recall glancing at the scroll-bar, realizing I was 3/4 of the way through, and we were just now uncovering important points for the climax 30 pages away. Usually authors have the opposite problem, dumping exposition on the reader in the beginning like clods of mud. Ideally world-building should be doled out like little pebbles, carefully–or in some creative way I’ve never before seen. All in all the pacing and length of DRAGON is good, though I would have liked a bit more resolution at the end. Sure, setting up for a sequel is all fine and dandy, but this installment needed more closure for full emotional impact.
I have a minor nit-pick about the geography of the book. A large part of the first half hinges on this cross-country car chase from Albuquerque, NM to Ely, NV. Now, I live on the East Coast, but I’ve spent enough time out West to know that that route takes you right through the middle of Utah–which the author does as well, and has the characters make a pit stop in Goblin Valley State Park. Goblin Valley, which is a legit place in UT, is LITERALLY the middle of nowhere.
If you are trying to get to Nevada from New Mexico, there are more convenient places to camp. Moab would make way more sense, but of course Goblin Valley sounds way better in a book about magical creatures. A little internet stalking reveals the author lives in Northern California, so I’m not sure if she has actually visited, or assumed it would be a good place to camp, not realizing that ‘short’ distance from highway 70 is an hour-ish drive on a windy dirt road through the cliffs and hills–especially given it’s winter in the book. I feel bad for making a fuss, but this is the kind of thing that drags people out of a story, geography that almost but not quite makes sense. That said, the descriptions of the landscape are spot-on and put the ‘real’ in a fantastical story–something always appreciated.
Also kind of have issue with the cover. It’s beautiful, but that’s the problem. The main character is a typical, awkward, acre-ridden teenager, and having a runway-ready face on the front doesn’t make a ton of sense. I love the idea of terrible acne as a manifestation of scales erupting from under a girl’s skin, and the delicate, armadillo-skin image on cover doesn’t match the book’s description. And don’t get me wrong–I’m not an artist or a graphic designer, but I still think the current art would better match high fantasy than the contemporary, urban fantasy YA story this book is. It’s lovely art, though.
Like YA urban fantasy? Like dragons? Know a kid who does? Check this book out after November 23rd!
(For some reason I can’t find an Amazon link yet.)