Dragonhaven: Creating A World That Feels All Too Real

            As a summer project, I was assigned to read two books. One was a long history book and the other was Dragonhaven, a novel by Robin McKinley. I would assign myself to read twenty pages a day yet procrastinate until the end of the day. I would stay up until midnight, knee-deep in eyelid-drooping history. Finishing it was comparable to escaping Shawshank prison, and when I picked up the next book with dread, I was delighted to find myself wanting to read more than the required twenty pages.

            Dragonhaven takes place in a world almost identical to the modern world, save for one deviation: dragons are real. The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Jake Mendoza, writing a report of the past year’s events. This shows not just in the beginning but also in the fuzziness of his memories and his comments about his former self.

             Jake is the son of the owner of a national park dedicated to the preservation and study of the endangered species of dragons. Training to be a park ranger, Jake goes on his first overnight solo hike to discover a dead mother dragon, killed by a poacher and bearing multiple newborns. All are dead except one. Jake takes the dragon and embarks to raise it. The thing is, the entire park is stuck in a thick fog of politics, so much that the mere existence of this dragonlet endangers the survival of it. The entire concept of it was enough to draw me in, but the execution was what truly blew me away 

            The worldbuilding is likely the most important part of the story. Worldbuilding is the process of creating a fictional world that feels full, alive, and coherent. A big example is the Middle-earth from Lord of the Rings or the expansive galaxy of Star Wars. These feel like real worlds with endless boundaries that are waiting to be explored. Dragonhaven effectively rivals them despite being less fantastical. So much information is given about the dragons from their different subspecies, their native regions, and their history that they are effectively painted as a real part of the world. Very little is known about dragons, putting the story in an ocean of mystery and secrets ready to be uncovered. The descriptions of these creatures are the thousand words that pictures wished they could show, especially since their characteristics go deeper than appearance.  For example, around dragons, Jake has a series of strange headaches with different feelings that can only be described on paper. Since the setting is so modern, the politics of dragons, dragon poaching, and the little recorded about them plays a key factor in the world and the park. The story itself is the main character as we learn more about these mystifying beings. The world slowly opens up as Jake uncovers secrets that no one has ever seen before. 

            Of course, the writing style is spectacular. The charm of the main character practically oozes through the paper. Since the story is coming from such a lighthearted character, the style is loose and informal. Italics and sarcasm are used generously to improve the tone. Sometimes the wording is a big complex and confusing, but it makes up for it in clever wordplay and comedy in the many words that aren’t confusing to the point of requiring multiple rereadings.  A line near the beginning showcases this writing style well, reading, “Not a lot of he-said and she-saids, or at least not till the end, and then they’re peculiar. But I’m going to try to tell the truth. Except for the parts I’m leaving out, because there’s still stuff I’m just not going to tell you. Get used to it.”

          Overall, Dragonhaven was a delight to my summer and a flight of fancy grounded so much in reality, you feel like you could step outside and see a dragon speed by overhead. The story is filled to the brim with charm and wonder, and I would suggest it to any lover of fantasy. It is not your typical high fantasy in Middle-earth or modern fantasy in the world of Harry Potter. If you’re looking for that, you’ll surely be disappointed with something more domestic and less action-based. Yet, I think its unconventional story and setting are what make Dragonhaven such an underrated gem worthy of reading.

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(This was also for school. I enjoyed this one a lot more than the other actually. It’s pretty fun just to rant about books I like :>)

Mackenzie

The amazing owner of WRandR!

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