Thu 12 Jun 2008
A few months ago, I read my first book by Hilari Bell, and noted that, despite her name, she is not a teenybopper, and I was a Very Bad Person for thinking that she might be one. No, truthfully, she’s old enough to have been a librarian for quite a while, and now she writes books for middle-grade readers and YAs. My self-imposed quest to read more of her works apparently stalled for a while, but here’s a second entry.
Fourteen-year-old Prince Perryndon (Perryn) of Idris is a complete disappointment to his father, who is the forty-fourth warrior-king of Idris. His father has fought off Norsemen and a dragon successfully for many years, but the dragon is becoming a little too annoying as of late. Perryn, by inclination and talent a scholar, has been researching quite a bit to find as much information as he can about fighting dragons, and he discovers a prophecy hidden in the royal library. He tries to show it to his father, who isn’t interested, and decides to try to follow the prophecy himself.
The main conceit of this book is that each title starts with a section of a heroic tale (usually a line or two), telling the story of the brave prince who slew the dragon. The chapter that follows tells the truth of the matter, like the fact that the prophesied unicorn is a vain, flighty thing; the true bard is a true drunk; and the prince has no fighting skills whatsoever. I rather enjoyed it, honestly. I’ve seen this idea before — most notably in Mercedes Lackey’s Tarma and Kethry books — but it’s always a good idea. There are many possibilities for humor, and reinforcing the idea that things are never quite how they are in stories.
Ms. Bell seems to have taken a lot of tropes (the son who doesn’t fit in, the prophecy, dragons, etc.) and turned them a bit on their ear. She didn’t turn them quite as completely as a Diana Wynne Jones novel might, but they’re definitely at least tilted to the side. Rather like The Goblin Wood, the originality doesn’t lie so much in the characters and plot elements as how it’s framed and where exactly she goes with them. There is a twist, but it comes so close to the end that I don’t feel comfortable discussing it. The book doesn’t end quite the way one might think it does.
I liked the characters, but none was particularly notable. Lysander the bard was amusing, and Samhain the sword (the name bothered me a little; a sword named after a major pagan holiday?) was funny as well. Perryn started out strong in intellect but weak in will and ended still strong in intellect, but possessed of a good deal more self-confidence. Which, I suppose, fulfils this book’s purpose as middle-reader or YA lit: the coming-of-age tale. It’s short — under two hundred pages — and undoubtedly intended for middle-grade readers. This is probably the best age range for it, but I will, of course, recommend it for all readers who enjoy semi-traditional high fantasy. 4/5 stars.