Oops. I bought this book when it came out a decade ago…and somehow forgot to actually read it. Well, I’ve fixed that. First, I’ll come right out and say that this isn’t the book I was expecting, by a long shot. In the United States, it was published by Scholastic Press with graphic design that leads the reader to expect a very different tone of story. It has the look of Young Readers, something more like author Philip Reeve’s Larklight books or Goblins. It is, however, more of a Young Adult (Teen) book, like his Mortal Engines series or Here Lies Arthur. So, don’t let the book cover or its shelf placement in a Barnes & Noble fool you. This really isn’t for the little ones. I think it would have been better had Scholastic used the image of the characters on the back of this book for the front, and had it classified as Young Adult. That’s just me spitballing…but I have worked with books, marketing, and sales for almost 30 years… (Also note that of course, the author rarely if ever has any input whatsoever in how the publisher handles design & distribution. I’m pointing the above commentary purely at Scholastic).
That said, this is an excellent adventure story with a colorful cast of characters and a few nice twists. It’s short, but Reeve packs a lot of thrills into a few pages. In the Middle Ages, a young, mute boy is sold into the service of a gregarious, womanizing, self-proclaimed dragon slayer. They travel into the wilderness to get the job done. I’m not going into more of the story here, as there are plenty of surprises along the way. As usual with Reeve’s Teen books, the danger feels real for characters. You get the sense that nobody is safe. He also deals with one of those unfortunate realities of being a teenager, learning that the world isn’t what you thought it was, adults can’t always be trusted, and life is complicated. In a sense, the book covers some similar themes about reality, illusion, lies, and survival that were so important to Here Lies Arthur.
I found Johannes Brock in particular, a fascinating and fun to read about character. His back story, motivation, and actions are all compelling. It got me thinking a bit about Ellis Peters’s Cadfael. Not that they’re similar characters, but both are Medieval men profoundly changed by their experiences in war.
I’m showing my Tabletop RPG roots here when I mention that No Such Thing as Dragons would make a great read for an Ars Magica fan (again, like Here Lies Arthur). Brock the Dragon Slayer would make a great Companion. It’s an action packed story with a great setting. Though I’m a Science Fiction guy by nature and I came to Reeve through his Sci-Fi books, I find myself hoping he’ll drop back into Medieval times again.