Saturday, June 18, 2011

Speaking to the Dragons

Voices of Dragons
Alternate histories are tricky. You want it to be close enough to the original history, but different enough to bother changing things. It is a fine line to walk, and if you fail, you fail miserably. Fortunately, Carrie Vaughn can weave fantasy with reality like a master. Voices of Dragons is an interesting take on a world where dragons are very real and people are very scared of them.

Kay is a normal teenage girl in a not-so-normal world. During WWII, the detonation of atomic bombs awakened creatures that had been mythology, until they started flying through the skies and terrifying the "townsfolk": dragons. After a brutal war with the dragons, that if continued, would spell destruction for both sides, they came to a treaty that gave the dragons their own territory. Kay's parents work to protect the border, respectful of Dragon territory, but scared of how fragile it is. Kay is fascinated by Dragon and its inhabitants, so much so that she often hikes right by Silver River, the border, all the time. On one of her forbidden hikes, she falls into the river and is swept away. Just before she drowns, she is plucked from the river by a dragon.

Despite romanticizing these creatures for years, Kay's first instinct is to be terrified of the dragon. When he speaks to her, though, it becomes clear he is just like her- young and curious. He tells her to call him Artegal, and tells her he just wants to learn how to speak better. They agree to meet up once a week or so, and develop a great friendship. He shows her an ancient book with paintings of life between humans and dragons that shows a cooperative relationship with humans riding dragons all the way to virgin sacrifices. Kay and Artegal decide to try flying together, and it is a thrill like Kay has never known. During one of their flights, a military plane, which is forbidden on the Dragon side of the river, crashes. The pilot sees her, but scrambles for the border. A few weeks later, another plane catches them flying, but this one gets pictures of Kay and Artegal. While the downed plane was excused by the dragon elders as an accident, this second plane is considered an act of war. Once the dragons retaliate, burning down government buildings, it becomes clear that Kay and Artegal are the key to preserving the world, as well as the humans and dragons that call it home. But are they enough to stop the war and restore the fragile peace between humans and dragons?

This was a really fun book with a great new future woven into our current past. The idea of sharing the world with dragons is so interesting, and Vaughn really delves into why people are so afraid of dragons. Is it their size? Are they scary because they are as smart as humans and can talk, making them essentially our equals, something we have never experienced before? This fear and desire of some people to eradicate them can easily be translated to current political affairs like immigration reform. This opens a world of discussions about borders, nationalism, and xenophobia that could really inspire and open up any student.

The language and content is age appropriate for any middle school student through high school. The multiple layers to the book can make it a fun fantasy for younger students to one with serious current political implications for an older student, making it incredibly versatile. It certainly falls into the fantasy realm, but it is realistic enough to reach kids who don't like serious fantasy. Overall, this was a very interesting book, and I am looking forward to what Vaughn comes out with next!

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