Dragonborn by Toby Forward

dragonbornI’ll be honest: I was partly drawn to this one because of the cover. And also, because I like books about dragons and that’s what this one promised to be. It’s not exactly what it turned out to be, though, and I’m still mulling over what I think of that.

The basic plot of Dragonborn is a fairly standard coming-of-age/into-powers story. It starts off with Sam, who is twelve, returning from his usual fishing expedition to find that his master, the wizard Flaxfield, has died. He quickly discovers that this death means all of Flaxfield’s old apprentices returning home; they get off on the wrong foot (there is some question of whether Sam is really Flaxfield’s apprentice) and he takes off on his own, with only the dragon Starback for a companion.

The thing is, this doesn’t really convey the slightly odd experience of reading this book. I read through the whole thing pretty quickly and without a lot of fuss. And yet, when I think about it, a lot of it didn’t work very well for me. Take, for instance, the fact that the entire misunderstanding that drives the plot could have been averted if one person had been present–and the text never gives us a reason for her absence. This is the kind of coincidental thing that tends to bother me me. Or the fact that the whole thing meanders through multiple sets of characters and settings in a rather dream-like way.

These are smaller things, but there are two larger issues that I keep coming back to. One is Ash, the antagonist, who is very effectively creepy but who is not given any kind of motivation, even a bad one. I rather suspect that this may be drawn out in the sequels (and I have a Theory). And yet the fact that for the entire first book we are given a character who has a tremendous influence over the plot but who is never given more than a vague “doesn’t like wizards, does like hurting people” as a motivation or character, does not make me feel like the story is doing things in a particularly nuanced way.

The second issue is that there’s simply too much going on, and what should be the emotional heart of the story–Sam’s internal journey and his relationship with Starback–gets rather lost in the changes of place and splitting of narratives. I wish this were a more focused story because I think it would pack a pretty hefty emotional punch and as it is, I don’t feel that it really resonated with me.

This is partly a pity because Forward is an excellent prose writer–the opening is just lovely–and has some fun references to Gerard Manley Hopkins, of all things! But by the end of the book, I felt rather as though the early promise of the beginning was squandered.

I suppose I’ve written myself into a more definite opinion than I originally had, so that’s something. I may try the sequel anyway, to see if the strands that bothered me are addressed.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2012, Bloomsbury Childrens; middle grade fantasy

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5 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

5 responses to “Dragonborn by Toby Forward

  1. Hmmm… we bought this for the boy at a school book fair, and neither of us has ever gotten around to actually reading it. I may wait to hear your opinion of the second book.

    • Maureen Eichner

      Yeah, it’s a quick read, but somewhat odd. Also, I meant to comment on your post–we definitely need to talk again!

  2. The second book in this series, Fireborn, actually takes place before this one! And what bothered me in Dragonborn was a sense that I was missing a lot of backstory that would add meaning, which Fireborn provides. An odd way to do a series….Anyway, I liked Fireborn better, though some of the content was distressing….

  3. Pingback: March 2014 reading list | By Singing Light

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