Book Review: Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Hi there…

Every now and then, a new young adult (YA) book comes to my attention to read. As a parent, I’m always on the lookout for well-written fiction with positive role models. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that YA is based in the real world and fairly boring for those of us a bit older than the target audience. Though the real world can be exciting in and of itself, I tend to look for a bit more of an escape for my eldest daughter.

Though the Eragon and Harry Potter series both have kids in leading roles, except for the first couple of books I never really felt they were aimed at the pre-teen market. Starlighter, the first in the new Dragons of Starlight series from author Bryan Davis seems to be tailor made for younger readers.

Starlighter focuses on two main characters from two different worlds linked by history – Jason Masters, newly appointed bodyguard to the governor; and Koren, a slave to the whims of dragons. Each seems built to be a hero and save the day.

Jason’s brother Adrian is the bodyguard to the governor. When Adrian goes on an adventure to discover the truth behind a conspiracy that’s lived in rumor and half-truths for a generation or more, Adrian leaves Jason in his role as bodyguard to Governor Prescott and gives him a message tube with a cryptic message. The message opens a can of worms that leads Jason on a wild ride through dungeons, caves, and into a whole new world…

Elsewhere in the solar system, Koren is discovering that the dragons of her world may also be keeping secrets. For generations, her people have served the dragons tooth and claw – mining, cleaning, raising more children as slaves. The dragons say they are protecting her people, but Koren discovers many of them are waiting for the prophecy of a mysterious black egg to come true. Unfortunately, the prophecy may also lead to the destruction of her world.

As with much young adult fiction, these characters are larger than life with amazing resolve and fantastic skills to keep them alive on their perilous journey between worlds. Along the way, they meet other characters like Randall Prescott, son to the governor who turns out to be an ally; Elyssa, a girl thought kidnapped by bears who can see glimpses of the future; and Tibalt, a crazy prisoner with riddles containing clues to what they should do next.

With 400 pages, the book moves quickly with great descriptions to help readers visualize each step of the way – from the smell of the noxious gas released during mining, to the rising cold waters as the group is trying to figure out how to open the gateway between Jason and Koren’s two worlds. Davis’ writing style reminded me a bit of The Eye of the World – the first book in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series.

By the end of the book, I was left with many questions and wondering what Jason and his friends would do to survive the trouble they find in the dragon world of Starlight, so I’ll definitely be interested to see what happens in the next book of the series. However – I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers instead of adults seeking more complex themes.

That’s not to say that Starlighter isn’t an enjoyable read. The concept of a pair of worlds bound together through a shared history and the enslavement of humans by dragons is not something I can recall in other fantasy fiction. However, it’s pretty easy to see who the good guys (and dragons) are and who isn’t helping out the characters as they chug along.

If you have a pre-teen interested in a fantasy story with swords, magic, and dragons – I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Starlight for their enjoyment. Davis has a gift for storytelling I’ll be sharing with my daughters soon!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books from Barnes & Noble below!

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[Book Review] Robin Hobb’s Dragon Haven

Wow…

What a difference a second book makes… I read Robin Hobb‘s The Dragon Keeper back in March 2010 and enjoyed it, but felt that it was really just getting going by the time the dragon keepers were chosen by the Rain Wild Council more than halfway through. Dragon Haven picks up where the action lets off in the first book and doesn’t let up until the end, providing a much more satisfying and quicker read than the first book.

Dragon Haven is the second book in the “Rain Wilds Chronicles” by Hobb, which is set in the world she’s created for previous series such as the Liveship Traders Trilogy. The Chronicles center on the people living in and around the Rain Wilds, a place of rivers running white with acid, dragons, interesting critters, and magical items left over from a vanished people. Some of the characters in the story are from Bingtown, a bigger town where the rules of society reign supreme and image is everything. And the rest are touched in some way by living in the Wilds, whether deformed or mutated in interesting ways by their continuous struggle against the natural order of the marshy area or in how they live as traders on the river.

The Dragon Keeper introduced us to the main characters in the story and the second book continues their journey…

Thymara is a child of the wilds, born with claws instead of fingernails. According to her people’s customs, she should have been left to die – but her father saved her and she grew up learning to hunt and forage in the treetop world in which she grew up. Chosen as a keeper, she ended up paired with the dragon Sintara, a beautiful queen bound and determined not to be dependent on her keeper.

Alise Kincarron grew up in Bingtown as a Trader’s daughter. She was shunned by society for her passion for learning all she could of dragon lore and the Elderlings, a people changed by the dragons who served as their connection with mankind. In the first book, she was courted and married to Hest Finbok, a successful Trader and businessman in need of an heir. The marriage of convenience with Alise allowed him to keep up appearances and allowed her to have access to more resources for her research, though there was a price to pay for such convenience.

Hest’s right-hand man was Sedric Meldar, a friend of Alise’s from her childhood. He served as Hest’s secretary, but also kept many of his secrets. Sedric was sent with Alise into the Rain Wilds so that she may see the dragons before they headed upriver to find the elusive and lost Elderling city of Kelsingra. But he had a secondary purpose to the journey that led him down a dark path…

And Leftrin, captain to the liveship Tarman, is tied to the dragons in his own way. In the first book, he found a wizardwood log – a dragon cocoon – washed far into the Rain Wilds. He and a hand-picked crew took it and worked the magical “wood” into his liveship to make it even more powerful than before. When the Tarman is contracted to help guide the keepers and dragons upriver, Leftrin becomes entangled with Alise and Sedric and falls in love with the Bingtown woman.

Dragon Haven continues the journey of the Tarman, keepers, and dragons upriver to find the mythical Elderling city of Kelsingra. Nobody knows if the place is real or imagined by the dragons, but they continue searching for clues as they delve deeper into the uncharted territory of the Rain Wilds.

Along the way, the dragons, keepers, crew of the Tarman, Alise, and Sedric learn more about themselves each day of the expedition. The dangers of the acid waters and simply finding enough food and fresh water to keep everyone alive would be tough enough, but unexpected dangers force everyone to reevaluate their situations and possibly even find happiness or at least understanding as they journey on.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but I will say that the end works extremely well to tie up many loose ends in a satisfying way without closing the door on future books exploring the world Hobb has created.

As I said in my review of The Dragon Keeper, this is serious, adult fantasy dealing with complex issues. I found it interesting that in the first book there was an unwelcome sexual act (Hest forcing himself on Alise on their wedding night) and in Dragon Haven we deal with almost a Lord of the Flies situation with a coed group of keepers roaming free with little or no adult supervision. This leads to some sexual experimentation by a few characters and an incident of voyeurism that leads to conflict among the keepers throughout the story.

Both books of the series deal with tough topics like marital fidelity, homosexuality, young lovers, and being social outcasts, but eventually most characters gain a better understanding of themselves and what they want or don’t want from their new lives with the dragons. It hits me a lot like young people growing up in our own society these days. Kids have to grow up fast as they’re thrust into much more adult situations much earlier than ever before.

If Dragon Haven is a product of Robin Hobb at her best, I may now have to check out some of her other books! This novel provided fast action, deep emotional bonds, and a great ending that leaves the door open for further adventures by the characters. If you were disappointed by The Dragon Keeper, I’d encourage you to check out Dragon Haven and give Hobb another chance. I wonder what she has in store for us next…

This article was originally published at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Dragon Haven and other Robin Hobb books at Barnes & Noble!

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Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon

Hi there!

Dreamworks Animation has had some hits and misses over the years, but their latest film – How To Train Your Dragon – manages to not only capture a great adventure on screen, but do it in a fun way with a lot of heart. Tough combination to pull off, but they managed. And the fact that the movie pulled in nearly $44 million in its opening weekend has to count for something!

We saw How to Train Your Dragon in 3D on an IMAX screen at an AMC theater in Glendale, AZ last Friday night. And though sometimes IMAX makes things too big to keep track of everything going on, I enjoyed this one. And the 3D was used to pretty good effect (as opposed to in Alice in Wonderland (2010), which IMHO used it poorly).

The movie centers around a young Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel who’s having a very busy year for movies!) and his unorthodox approach to killing the dragons who have been razing his island village for seven generations. He helps out Gobber, the village blacksmith (voiced by Craig Ferguson), and creates little mechanical wonders to help him kill a dragon and take his place among the village warriors. Those warriors include Stoick, the village chief (voiced by Gerard Butler), who also happens to be Hiccup’s Dad.

During one dragon raid, Hiccup uses one of his devices and hits one of the beasties attacking the village – a fast, invisible dragon known as a Night Fury. Though no one in the village believes he hit it, Hiccup heads off into the woods to try and track down where it may have landed. And when he finds it, his experiences with the dragon change everything he believes in.

[rating:4/4]

Based on a series of books by Cressida Cowell, the story in the film has changed a bit from the novels (from what I’ve heard, people don’t ride the dragons in the series), but the author was pleased with the results. We’ll have to pick the books up and give them a read now that we’ve seen the movie version.

Is the story original? Yes and no. At the heart of the story, it’s a matter of self-discovery and proving your own worth to yourself and the people who care about you. For a movie aimed at kids, I have to say it’s a great message regardless of whether it’s been done before. But the concept of having a tale of dragons and Vikings is definitely pretty cool.

The animation was solid, the characters were fun, and flying with Hiccup and Toothless was a blast in 3D. I know the adults I was with enjoyed it just as much as the kids did. And the voice acting was very solid: Butler, Ferguson, Baruchel, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and more. It’s tough to get a convincing Scottish accent unless you’re a Scot like Butler and Ferguson and they did it beautifully.

If you’re looking for a good movie to take the kids to, it’s tough to beat How to Train Your Dragon at the moment. I know we’ll be picking it up on DVD when it’s released, but we might have to sneak another viewing at the theater before it disappears!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up some books and other items from Amazon!

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