Book Review: Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

November 17, 2004


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This is the first novel in the Pit Dragon Trilogy that continues with Heart’s Blood. The author has also written a Young Merlin Trilogy and a Tartan Magic trilogy, as well as a Starscape book entitled Briar Rose.

Picture the planet Austar IV, a dry forbidding world, and at one time a penal colony. One of the things mankind found on this nasty ball of sand and rock was a nearly extinct species–real dragons. And through breeding and training, the species has been revived–and a new form of popular entertainment, pit fighting and the gambling industry that surrounds it, has become the basis of a whole planet’s economy.

Today (assuming “today” is sometime in the 26th century) it is a Protectorate, neither a full member of the Galactic Federation nor an independent world. Besides the pits andthe baggeries (don’t ask) and the stew-shops, pretty much the rest of the planet is given over to dragon farms where the big, hot-blooded, winged worms are carefully bred, trained, and cared for.

Another holdover from the old days of the penal colony is the distinction between bond and free. Only now it is a more fluid distinction. Everyone who is “in bond” wears a bag around his neck, and when that little bag is filled with coins, he can buy his freedom and become a “master” himself.

One such bondboy is Jakkin, who works on a dragon farm belonging to one of the great dragon breeders of the time, Sarkkhan. Jakkin’s ambition is to steal a dragon’s egg (which isn’t technically wrong, since very few of the eggs actually have a baby dragon in them), raise and train his own dragon, and enter it in the pits so he can buy his freedom and become his own man.

But this is complicated. It means sneaking around in the dead of night, covering up his tracks in the sand lest others find the oasis where his “snatchling” lives, finding food for the little beast, and figuring out how to turn a wild baby dragon into a trained fighter. It helps that he can communicate with it telepathically. But what doesn’t help is that a girl named Akki, who stirs confusing desires in Jakkin, also knows his secret. Or that a sharp-eyed, really really mean old trainer has a grudge against him. Or that there are other winged lizards besides dragons, who would like to have his precious snatchling for breakfast…

This is an exciting and colorful fantasy tale with a charismatic young hero who could give Harry Potter a run for his money. BUT I think this book falls more in the category of “young adults” than “children’s literature.” Be advised, anyway: there is some mild sexual content, and the story also depicts drug use and somewhat graphic violence.