Dragon Run is A Surprisingly Solid Middle Grade Fantasy
If you can look past the unimaginative name, Dragon Run is actually a really good fantasy novel for anyone – not just middle grade readers! I mean, color me surprised. When I first requested a review copy of Dragon Run I was expecting something fun and campy along the lines of perhaps How to Train Your Dragon (not that I’ve read the book but the movie is adorable). I figured, “Hey, it’s Scholastic. It’ll be a fun, quick read that I won’t really need to get too invested in.”
Oh, how wrong I was.
I got way more into this book way earlier on in the story that I ever would have expected. That’s because Patrick Matthews knows how to draw you in and he also knows how to keep things moving along. Part of it starts with having a really great, relatable character in young Al. In the book he’s twelve years old and it begins on the day he and his friends are meant to attend their ‘Testing.’ In their world, this is a moment where they are assigned a numerical value based on their ability to absorb ‘life potenta’ that generally ranges from a one on upward. Al, however, finds himself rated as a zero. With a little guidance and help he’s able to escape the death sentence that being a zero would place on him, his parents, his sister, and anyone else even remotely thought to be related to them.
But it also means that suddenly at twelve years old he’s all alone in a word and being hunted down by Cullers loyal to the dragons who harvest life potenta through the people. They are ruthless and will stop at nothing to follow through with his sentence. Al does his best to just get by with the help of Eather outcast Bird and his old friends Trillia and Wisp but there’s something special about Al. He can’t just ‘get by’ any more. He finds himself wrapped up in something much larger than himself – something much larger than any of them. Even though he’s just a zero, Al proves that anyone can become a hero.
Now, the fact that Al is twelve years old is a bit of a stretch for me but I guess that’s probably because I’m not the target demographic here. In my mind I’ve seen him as a bit older because he’s a fairly grown up character like most middle grade heroes and heroines. He and his friends do a lot of things that even in a fantasy world I imagine would be difficult for kids their age. Especially when we start heading to the climactic end where Al finds himself in a much larger role than he ever could have imagined.
That said, I’m a really big fan of this one.
I just thought that it was a really cleverly put together story with an interesting backstory to the world as a whole. I’m not a big fan of dragon-based fantasy most of the time. But in this world mythology establishes that the dragons created humanity and all the other beings in this world. They act as sort of absent overlords while human lords rule their lands. But there is much more sinister truth behind things. The dragons are actually using people to absorb ‘life potenta’ – treating them like cattle – while no one but some of the highest powered magic users in the land are aware of it. I thought that was actually a pretty clever sort of thing to have going. It was a good, complex story that made sense and was easy enough for even the middle grade readers to understand. I do think, though, that the author could have gone into it all a bit more. Having it all be sort of info dumped on us by the Magistrate was fine but I feel like it could have been worked in a bit more.
The ending was a bit anticlimactic but I actually kind of appreciated that. It can’t all be action and adventure and swordplay. I liked that the dragons were too difficult of a foe to defeat and that people had to be more creative to finally cast them off. I also appreciated that this was a standalone book with no real hint of a sequel. I like one shot books! Not everything needs to be a sequel to make money. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that could be covered in a sequel. I think it will be very interesting to see how the story progresses onward after the final ending. But, at the same time, I can imagine that just fine. I appreciate being able to think of all the possibilities without someone holding my hand and telling me what happens.
Really, I only had a few problems with the story in the end. One was that in the end we really didn’t get to see much of the Evans. Also, I would have really appreciated learning a bit more about the skincarvers. I thought having Wisp apprentice to one would mean we’d get a bit more information but all we really learned was a bit about the marks and how they change based on who makes them. I think I would have liked to have seen Trillia and Wisp developed a more as side characters. Wisp had a bit of character development but it was a bit choppy and sudden. He had a real Ron Weasley feel about him but he didn’t get nearly as much time or effort to develop all those raw emotions that I assumed were running through him. I would have liked to have known a bit more about Bird and the Earthers – and all the other types of people, too! But, ah, well. I guess you can only do so much in a middle grade story before you have to worry about the kids getting bored.
One thing I can say, though, is that you certainly won’t get bored reading this one. It’s fun, it’s an easy read. It’s got a very well established mythology that could have lent itself to any 500+ adult fantasy series. It’s well worth a read.
Dragon Run is a really great and very easy read that I think will go over well readers of all ages. The book’s cover and title are misleadingly juvenile and I’m afraid that they will keep people from giving this book a chance. Granted, like most middle grade novels, it is focused on it’s demographics and so older readers and adult readers need to keep that in mind and not judge it too harshly. The great thing about Dragon Run, though, is that I feel they would be hard pressed to do so. Yeah, people can nitpick but it’s an over all solid story that I definitely recommend for fans of middle grade fantasy and people who are looking for a fun little break from the realms of adult high fantasy.