Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dragon Frontier, by Dan Abnett

Jake's family is part of a wagon trail heading from the East towards Oregon, preparing for a fresh start on the frontier and a chance to escape failure and tarnished reputations. Jake's a bit of an outcast though. His horse allergy means that he's not able to ride up front with the other boys his age, so must stay with the waggon and the Oxen and keep an eye on his Ma and his sister. Jake's only real friends are in his adventure books, but he's only been allowed to bring one with him on the road.

When the travellers' camp is besieged one night by sky-borne fire, Jake becomes separated from his family during the panic and destruction. Rescued by the mysterious natives, Jake's wounds are treated and bound and the tribe do their best to nurse Jake back to health, but his illnesses are too advanced for their remedies. Jake is delivered to the nearest town where he is expected to stay, adopted by the Blacksmith. Here he meets the Smith's children, the headstrong Eliza and her younger twin brothers. The latter are very keen on Jake, enthusiastically adopting him as a replacement older brother. Eliza is thoroughly less keen. She's heard the delirious Jake spouting nonsense about dragons and thunderbirds and has decided he's insane.

Jake knows he does not belong in this town, that he needs to find the purple-eyed creature that set his camp alight. He needs to locate his family. The only people that can help him are the natives, so that is where he is going to go- back into the wilderness for some answers. Setting out alone, Jake's mysteriously acquired directional instincts lead him back to the hidden settlement of the Natives. They have some answers for him, but it's not the ones he's anticipating. Life is about to get much more interesting for Jake, suddenly he's very unique and important, and horse hair allergies are not going to interfere with his new ride.

Dragon Frontier is a Wild West fantasy adventure series for lower aged secondary pupils (I'd say) that is a bit of a cross between Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption. There's the search for lost family in the barren and dangerous West, coupled with unexpected magical powers and responsibilities where dragons (and control thereof) are concerned. The frontiersman action and the dragons themselves make this an ideal book for fans of the Beast Quest series, and it would also be enjoyed by readers of the How to Train You Dragon books. There's a lot of action, an epic quest and feelings of isolation or exclusion, which I think a lot of readers will relate to. I also liked that Jake, the main character was a big reader and frequently talked of the immersive power of books and stories, so it get's a nod of approval for secretly promoting reading....

However, personally I found this book a bit of a struggle. Ordinarily, I love a Western. Red Dead changed my life. Cowboys, frontiers, covered waggons and lots and lots of sand- can't get enough. What I found difficult about this was the slightly jarring combination of Western and dragonish Fantasy. It just didn't do it for me. It's unique, certainly, but something about the book left me wanting more. I was disappointed by Eliza and Jake's relationship too. Though they went from enemies to allies to genuine friends, I didn't feel like they ever had any real chemistry- there was never any believable connection made between the two of them. I never really felt that I was invested in Jake's character in any way.

Interesting concept, compotently written, but lacking in dynamic characters and a little bit underwhelming I felt.

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