I love Robin McKinley's fairytale adaptations (as far as I'm concerned, Beauty is a must read and the Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword deserved the recognition that they got), so I was willing to read Dragonhaven, even though it did not sound like my kind of a book. I mean, a novel about dragons in a contemporary world, no thanks, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Robin McKinley. Unfortunately, it lacked the magical sense that captivated me in McKinley's other novels. I kept waiting to get into the story, but I never did.
14 year-old Jake grows up the son of the head of a national park designed to protect two hundred of the world's remaining dragons. On his first solo hike through the park, Jake finds a dying dragon, next to the poacher who fatally wounded her and was torched to death by the dragon in return. Even more shocking, the dragon had just given birth and only one of her dragonlets was left alive. It was clear to Jake that the dragonlet wouldn't last much longer on its own so he took it into his care even though it's a felony to help save a dragon. Jake's mother died when he was twelve so he sympathizes with the dragonlet and can't bear to let it die. He struggles home and begins the dangerous process of trying to raise a dragon, which he has to keep secret from the tourists visiting the park. The death of the poacher brought an uproar from the public against the dragons and Jake knows that if he's discovered, the park would be shut down.
It sounds exciting when you read it in one paragraph, but try 342 pages and then tell me what you think. It would have been so much better if it had been edited into a shorter novel.
It seems odd that this books is classified as a children's book at all. Jake's young in the beginning, but he's 25 at the end of the book. The last third of the novel takes place much later and seems incongruent with the rest of the story. There's a lot of language and some references to sex that surprised me. Jake is clearly an adult dealing with adult issues like whether or not he should have kids, and I don't think many kids would feel any connection to his problems.
I have much higher hopes for Chalice, McKinley's new novel just released this month. It sounds more in line with The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and is already receiving rave reviews.