Johnston, E. K. The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing, 2014.

Trondheim is a very ordinary small mining and farming town in southwest Ontario, and Siobhan McQuaid is a pretty ordinary sixteen-year-old — except for her music, which fills all the world around her. But this is actually an alternate history novel, and Trondheim, like all other communities, has problems with attacks by flying dragons.

Dragon-slayers have been part of human society since prehistoric times. The Romans used them in establishing the Empire, St. George is the touchstone in English-speaking countries, the two world wars (which produced lots of smoke) attracted hordes of dragons, and Henry Ford’s expanse of automobile factories finally led to the abandonment of Michigan. Because dragons are strongly drawn to any source of carbon, even driving a car can be dangerous, and no one with any sense builds a bonfire. Dragons in this world are rather stupid, always dangerous, and quite vicious.

Lottie Thorsgard, the most renowned dragon-slayer in the Western world, used to protect the industries of Hamilton, but then she was injured and was forced to retire. But Lottie has plans, and she moves her family — her partner, Hannah (a noted swordsmith), Hannah’s brother, Aodhan (a giant of a dragon-slayer and a hero of the Gulf War, with its burning oil wells), and especially young Owen, who represents the next generation in the family business. He shows great talent with a sword, but he’s really bad with algebra, so Siobhan ends up tutoring him. But her music is more important to Lottie’s plans than she knows, and she soon finds herself recruited as Owen’s future bard. ’Cause every big-time dragon-slayer has gotta have one.

This is Johnston’s first novel and it has various “first novel” problems, mostly in the slightly jarring missteps in word-choice and phrasing that are scattered through the book. She should have been assigned an experienced copyeditor, but this sort of thing can be forgiven in a novice. The story itself is nicely developed and the characters are sympathetic and believable. Siobhan’s views of her teachers’ foibles are witty and the portrayal of Sadie, the strong-minded alpha girl at the school, who discovers a yearning to become a dragon-slayer herself, is very nicely done. The teenage relationship between Siobhan and Owen isn’t what you might expect, either. The author threads brief lectures through her narrative on the history and mechanics of dragon control, and how and why things changed for the worse, and why they need to change back for everyone’s good. And it’s all internally consistent, which is important in building an alternate world.

It’s marketed as a YA novel, naturally, but a good book is a good book — and this is a good one. And it cries out for a sequel.

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