Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: The Dragon of Trelian

Title: The Dragon of Trelian (First book in a series)
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Not Applicable
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
A good way to start any story is to have the main character almost fall out a window because he is startled by a precocious and not-very-sensitive princess named Meg who sneaks up behind him and, without any warning, starts speaking.
Calen's first impressions of Meg aren't exactly the greatest, but her overall friendliness definitely makes up for any of her shortcomings. As a friendless and bored Apprentice Mage, Calen is willing to befriend practically anyone at this point, even if "anyone" includes a Third Royal Daughter who has a secret mind-link to a dragon named Jakl.
As the kingdom prepares for a royal wedding which will potentially end a century-old conflict with a neighboring kingdom, Calen and Meg explore Meg's link to her dragon, and Meg falls in love with a handsome Royal Attendant named Wilem. Unbeknownst to Calen and Meg, however, is the fact that Wilem and his mother, Sen Eva, plan to kill the royal bride on her wedding night in revenge for a murder supposedly committed by Meg's father and mother.
Also unbeknownst to them is the fact that Sen Eva is an extremely powerful, extremely dangerous unmarked Mage (which is illegal. But that's beside the point.)
Unfortunately, Sen Eva and Wilem's plan doesn't remain unbeknownst to the two friends for long. That's the problem with accidently overhearing extremely sensitive information while hiding behind a curtain. And then getting discovered by the sensitive-information-givers, who happen to have almost unlimited magical power at their disposal.
Calen and Meg have to race against time to stop the murderers (they also have to get back to the castle because they somehow ended up in the middle of nowhere... it's a long story). Can they get back in time? How will they convince everyone that Sen Eva is evil?

 The Good -
Unlike most fantasy princesses, Meg has a very good relationship with everyone in her family. For the most part, she respects the authority of her parents, and she fosters friendships with all her sisters. She is willing to sacrifice anything for their well-being, including her own safety.
Meg's friendship with Calen is also unusual for a fantasy story; at this point in the series, they are not romantically involved, and while romance is certainly possible between them in future books, there is not even a hint of romantic interest on either part at this time. Instead, a deep and lasting friendship grows between them. They both sacrifice for the good of the other, and this particularly shows in Calen, who does many little things for Meg to show his great regard for her.
Everyone (every "good guy", at least) is very courageous. Guardsmen protecting the royal family face grave injury and even death to perform their duties. Meg and Calen face the powerful Sen Eva multiple times in order to save Meg's family. Calen braves his fear of heights so that Meg can complete her mission. Meg allows Calen to experiment with potentially dangerous magic on her because there is no other options.
The Magistratum, a group of Mages who control the rest of the Mages and make sure that they don't do anything harmful, represent order and the good use of magic. It is obvious in the contrast between Sen Eva (who does not follow the Magistratum) and the Mages ruled by the Magistratum that some sort of law must be put in place to govern the use of such powerful forces.
Sen Eva's search for "revenge" is actually a search for self-redemption (I won't say any more because I don't want to ruin the story). However, she searches for that self-redemption in the wrong way. While her bad actions nullify any good that might come from her search, it still does not erase the fact that she wants to fix her past actions.
Wilem eventually finds out that his mother has been using him as a pawn to fulfill her purpose. Though he was about to kill the royal family, he immediately refuses to act and is willing to die rather than to do what his mother asks him to do.
Meg, who has every right to be angry at Wilem (he played her romantically as well as plotted to kill her family. More on that later.), is given complete control of his fate. She is angry enough to literally kill him, but she does not take revenge as she wants to and decides to temper justice with mercy.

The Bad -

- Mild
  1. The violence in this book usually happens in the background, though there are plenty of perilous situations.
  2. Though they mutually agree to allow it, Meg and Calen both put the other into varying amounts of danger.
  3. Meg and Calen show disrespect to their elders and often disobey them. They do not get into any trouble for doing so (usually).
  4. At one point, Sen Eva asks, "What harm in a lie?" While Sen Eva's lies eventually destroy her, Meg and Calen's lies only receive a passing mention at most, and rarely have any real consequences. They also keep grave secrets from those in authority.
  5. Calen and Meg's relationship often seems more sibling-ish than not. They are often sarcastic to each other, and they call each other "stupid" and "idiotic" every once in a while. This is always meant as teasing.
  6. The religion of this fantasy world seems to be dualistic: there is a lady of light and a lord of darkness. The religion is not delved into, though mentions of praying to a particular deity are made. Also, the characters say "gods" in moments of excitement.
- Serious
  1. There are some serious issues with the magic in this book. I particularly found an extended description of a "divination" using something akin to tarot cards very disturbing. Sen Eva is trying to raise her son from the dead. Meg has a link with her dragon which seems more like a soul-sharing than anything. Characters are able to share each other's power. Magic is portrayed as a tool which can be used for good or for evil. While this specific explanation may not be dangerous in a fantasy world, in the real world it is a very concerning subject. However, aside from the tarot card incident, the magic should not present any extreme problems for most mature teenagers.
  2. Meg has extended fantasies of getting revenge on Wilem and Sen Eva. At one point, she finds herself with the opportunity to kill Wilem; her connection with her dragon actually seems to push her toward this action, and it is only after a very long struggle with herself that she resists.
  3. Wilem uses Meg's romantic interest in him to get information from her. We see Meg progress into her infatuation with him, and then think of kissing him. They do eventually kiss.
  4. We later see Wilem flirting openly with a kitchen maid, and Meg wonders whether or not Wilem ended up in her room.
  5. A very awkward conversation ensues between Meg and Wilem about wedding nights. Nothing is clarified, so younger readers would probably not catch it. However, older readers will find it very apparent.
My Opinion -
It is very rare that I find a well-written, interesting, relatively clean fantasy novel, and The Dragon of Trelian is probably one of the best I've read. It was not a humorous book, and was actually quite serious, which is surprising because a lot of books with similar subject matter end up being more comical than anything. Yet, though it was serious, Trelian was not a sad or depressing story. In fact, I found it rather inspiring. Meg and Calen's friendship is one of the most beautiful I have seen in recent fiction, and it was not ruined by any premature, infatuated romance. The other relationships in the story were very realistic, and the plot was absolutely brilliant. Sure, the story definitely had its issues; the dumb sexual comments in the "wedding night" scene were completely unnecessary, and the magic posed a problem (at least, it did for me, but I often get hung up on fantasy magic). But in spite of these downfalls, I can honestly say that I really liked this book, I would definitely recommend it, and I will either a) buy myself a copy or b) borrow it so often from the library that it might as well be mine.


Just to warn anyone who decides to pick up this book: This book is the first in a series that only has two books so far, and the second book ends on an absolutely horrible, and I repeat, HORRIBLE cliff hanger. So be prepared to be angry at everyone and everything for at least a week if you decide to get sucked in.

1 comment:

grandma jane said...

Sounds like a refreshing change from the ordinary humdrum of contrived plots and interactions. And of course it did have the word 'Dragon' in the title...:-D) Again, thanks.