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I’ll be perfectly honest, there were several points when I seriously considered putting this book down and walking away.
Inconsistencies and Plot Fails
There were a few moderate inconsistencies. For example, the main character breaks her ankle and tells her father to leave her by the window of her room because she can’t walk to the docks to see him off – and then (in the next sentence) she’s hugging him goodby on the dock. There were a few others involving objects that did not belong, for example: how did the nursemaid/nannies cloak get in the dragon’s cave?
The most glaring error was the knowledge held by Rosie’s best friend. Kit (the best friend) witnesses a rather horrific ‘cure’ for the ‘devil’s mark’ on Rosie’s hand. With a dragon’s claw for a finger, Rosie is unable to marry a prince and become queen (we’ll come back to this primary plot twist), so her mother arranges a visit with a local witch who performs medieval surgery on Rosie’s hand. Kit assists with the ‘cure,’ which doesn’t work. Later, Rosie rescues Kit from the evil witch and takes the girl on as a servant, thereby making her one and only same-aged friend – who knows nothing about the claw. How does a teenager assist with surgery and not know about the item being ‘cured?’
The thing that made me seriously consider giving up on this book was the romance-novel find-a-man plot. I found myself of two battling minds. On the one hand, the culture of find-a-man-or-else is historically accurate. the characters are direct descendants of the Pendragon family whose lives were prophesied by Merlin himself. Removing the pressure placed on a princess to marry into another kingdom for political reasons would not be true to the historic setting. On the other hand, dragons exist and this kingdom has been banished to a tiny island not covered in any actual historic (or literary) text. So, this is neither a historic romance nor an alternate-history novel. It’s just a fantasy novel building off of the legends of Merlin.
More aggravating than the outside pressures were the internal ones. Rosie is fully wrapped up in finding love, landing a man, removing her curse so that she can marry well and struggling with her love-at-first-sight feelings (for a lower-born prince). There are dragons attacking the kingdom and eating people she knows well and holds dear (right in front of her) and the primary internal dialog highlighted is the whole one-day-my-prince-will-come Hollywood-esque drivel.
The witch is a particularly wicked person who is burned to death by a mob of villagers for a crime she did not commit (a respected member of the castle/royal court gets away with murder, literally, multiple times – and is never brought to justice). She is the local practitioner of ancient healing arts that everyone goes to when their Christian-approved methods do not work. Again, this is historically accurate – except for the woman’s personality. Her character is so nasty that the burning is something of a party. There are many (MANY) aspects to this particular plot twist that deserve commentary…but I will leave that to another person.
The book convinced me to continue to the end when the dragons swooped down, plucked the princess (literally) out of her medieval court and dropped her into a dragon’s cave. The father dragon turns her into a servant, helping him raise his newly hatched dragons after the death of his mate (killed by the lower-born love-interest prince).
The novel transforms into something completely different the moment the princess leaves the castle. The before-dragons princess is the soft waiting-for-my-prince beauty and the after-dragons princess is a tough, survivor and negotiator capable of making hard decisions in the interest of her kingdom.
Rosie’s time in the dragon cave also brings in some very interesting dragon-perspectives on history and humans that is never fully explored. Sigh. In my opinion, the dragons, their perspectives and the transforming affect on the princess are the most important and interesting aspects of this novel. I reached the end wishing the author had cut the before-dragons section down to 1/3 (or less) of it’s current length and spent significantly more time delving into the dragons and their world.
The target audience for this book are middle-graders or tweens. The text presents multiple opportunities for discussions of history, women, perspectives on alternative medicines/religions, relationships, witch burnings (lynchings), etc.
I do not feel comfortable giving a blanket recommendation on this text. Some tweens are more capable of reading this sort of novel than others. My fear is that some girls will be drawn in by the whole my-prince-will-come thing, without seeing all of the complications surrounding that culture and mindset.
Ultimately, this is one of those moments when parents and guardians have to stop and think – is this book good for my kid?
–Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey