The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Post #1: Morris Award Finalist Blog Tour Week
YALSA’s Morris Award honors the year’s best young adult novel by a debut author. The Morris Award winner for 2014 will be announced at the upcoming ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Writers’ Rumpus is honored to host a week of posts about the Morris Award Finalists.

Book Review by Joyce Audy Zarins

It seems that carbon-addicted dragons prowl now, as they always have, and our growing dependence on fossil fuel has boosted their numbers. Something must be done, and soon.

Set in a small town in present day Ontario, this witty adventure story is told by Siobhan McQuaid, the musically brilliant bard/PR person for young dragon-slayer-in-training Owen Thorskard. Sixteen-year-old “Owen the Weedy” has doubts about his ability to slay the dragons threatening his town, but he was born with a strong sense of duty toward family and community, so he keeps his sword sharp. Through an accident of fate, he and Siobhan meet and share detention on the first day of eleventh grade. During their ensuing encounters with disaster Siobhan sometimes narrates what actually happens. In other accounts, she takes the bard’s role of shaping the telling of events in order to improve the political and socio-economic outcome.

Siobhan also sets the world’s historical record straight, for example explaining the demise of Michigan. Its profusion of lakefront land was prime dragon breeding territory and its abundance of soot-belching factories and hordes of factory workers attracted the marauding beasts. She notes that the Detroit Redwings hockey team logo is a warning to society. Its wheel honors the auto industry, while its wing is a reminder of the dragons that “brought it down.” She clarifies accounts of dragon repulsion in regard to Queen Victoria, the burning of Carthage, and the despoiling of vast swaths of North Africa and the Middle East, sprinkling it all with annotations about the Beatles, Lady Gaga, and Shakespeare. There are also frequent moments of pure irony in her narration. The adult characters, including Owen’s father who has PTSD after a particularly brutal dragon attack in the Middle East, Owen’s quixotic mother, his other parents: Aunt Lottie, who is the most renowned, though now maimed, dragon slayer ever, and her wife Hannah the sword-maker, are well developed, believable, and interesting.

Siobhan explains that the swarming dragons have black blood and two hearts, and “You can’t just hack at a dragon. For starters, its scales are very hard, so if you whack its spine too many times, you’ll end up with a dull sword and your hair on fire.” Good tips to know. Farm animals and occasionally people “flesh out” their diet.

When the dragon population suddenly spikes, Owen, his family of famed dragon slayers, and Siobhan must defend their town, and their lives. Owen’s remarkable friendship (notice I did not say romance, for it isn’t one) with funny, intelligent Siobhan develops toward a dramatic and surprising climax in which something major is lost, generating a true hero.

 About the book design

The designer of the hardcover version of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston has left no room for skepticism about the premise, that dragons will soon destroy Trondheim if two special teens don’t slay them. On the cover is a typical high school-er with a broadsword protruding from his backpack, hopefully not skewering his algebra homework. Algebra is not his best subject, after all. Over his shoulder looms a dark, toothy beast whose image relentlessly haunts the edges of the chapter opening pages throughout the book, as if always in the readers’ peripheral vision. Beneath the dust jacket is a fiery orange book with a foil embossed shield bearing the insignia of Siobhan’s French horn.

The interior pages have ample margins and gutter space along with a beautiful traditional serif font for the body text and sans serif for the folios, making this an eminently readable package that echoes the story’s interplay between past and present. This novel will hold up just as well in an e-book format, but Carolrhoda Lab has made the hardcover good to hold.

A sequel to The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, titled Prairie Fire, is available for preorder with a March launch date.

StoryofOwen_coversmallTHE STORY OF OWEN
Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
By E. K. Johnston
Carolrhoda Lab. Young adult; ages 12 to 18

Finalist for the William C. Morris Award. The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

This review also appears at WritersRumpus.

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