Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Since I read a lot of books in a similar vein with similar storylines, challenges, themes and characters, I am always looking for an author to surprise me and draw me in with a different twist or take on familiar elements.

Voices of Dragons is a little more serious and a little less whimsical than a lot of the teen urban fantasy type books I have read.  It took some getting used to, but overall it was worth reading.  A savvy metaphor for the contemporary state of the world.

The setting is completely contemporary and modern. The only thing that isn't "normal" is the fact that there are dragons in the world, which is a bit jarring. It takes some getting used to that there is only one thing "out of place," only one magical element -- as opposed to, say, having a character discover that there is an entire magical world.

The dragons are not so much considered magical as large, powerful, intelligent, virtually eternal creatures whose fire breathing capability enables them to have extremely destructive potential. They are relegated behind borders negotiated sixty years ago, after the dragons took issue with the disturbance caused by the testing and detonating of atomic bombs during World War II. Neither human nor dragon is allowed to cross the borders. There is no contact, no communication. It is forbidden and illegal. As a friend pointed out to me, it has a very Cold War feel to it.

One day, Kay accidentally crosses the border when she slips and falls into a river while cooling off after a hike. A dragon not only saves her life rather than letting her die or eating her himself but also asks her to come back again and visit. He wants to practice his English. He is curious. He wants to learn. And so does Kay.

As the fragile and unlikely friendship grows, the larger situation becomes more unstable. The military can't leave well enough alone and begins testing the border ... in order to test new weapons. As the situation escalates, Kay and her dragon friend must make some extremely difficult (and courageous) choices.

The lessons about choosing education, communication and cooperation over suspicion, hostility and provocation are well taught, as is the importance of doing something for the greater good and the longer term, rather than focusing on the moment and the individual.

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