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Ratfan's Book Blog: North of the Dragonlands; by Stephen Dedman
Originally posted by ratfan at Book Blog: <i>North of the Dragonlands</i> by Stephen Dedman
This book is YA, probably fine for reasonably literate children from around 10 or so through teens, but also readable for an adult. It's very well and clearly written. On one level, Dragonlands is a fantasy novel where a civilization that has domesticated various kinds of dragons tries to take over the territory of another people. These people take slaves as just another valuable commodity for trade, which is how the main character comes into play. She’s a child from a primitive village who finds herself in the wrong place at about the worst possible time.

This is an alternate world to ours, a world where a small population of dinosaurs and pterosaurs survived in sub-Saharan Africa. When people came from Britain to colonise Africa, they domesticated the “dragons’ they found and created a new mythology based on the Dragon as god. The society of the Dragonlords is medieval in nature and there is a lot of ignorance about different races, leading to the belief that golden skinned people with epicanthic folds to their eyes are really elves who can do magic.

Although the young slave girl Zuri experiences some terrible events, the book faces these without dwelling on elements which would not be suitable for young readers. There are several strands of the story, each showing the point of view of characters crucial to events. The first is Zuri herself. The second is the Dragonlords King, and also his identical twin brother, who is in the uneviable position of being born second. That close to being King! It’s got to hurt. The third strand is the samurai Dhan, who has come seeking his son, taken as a slave by the Dragonlords.

These strands come together when the Dragonlord army moves across northern Europe and holds the town of Cavalis , where Zuri is now a slave attached to a scriptorium, to siege. I felt the pace of the story really picked up here, where for perfectly logical reasons, a small group of teenagers are the only people with a chance to get through the siege for help. I’ve read so many YA stories where it doesn’t really make sense that the POV teenager is somehow the “chosen” one with special powers no one else possesses.

Magic, in the real world, is literacy, and here this is a rare talent indeed. Zuri can read and write because her trader grandfather taught her and this power will be what saves her. It also leads to my favourite line in the book:

"He [Brother Dantius, Zuri’s supervisor] says people who love books never have any

So true. Painful, but true! While the story does have a definite ending, there are enough loose threads to be woven into another book. I hope that happens.