skip to Main Content

Dragons, Friendship and Magic – The Language of Spells

THE LANGUAGE OF SPELLS
Written by Garret Weyr
Illustrated by Katie Harnett
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

The Language of Spells book cover art

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 1

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 3

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.

The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’s slow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Share this:

Great and Noble Knighttime Reading

Ronna Mandel reviews King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 4-7) written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel.

Meet Henry Alfred Grummorson, the newly turned six-year-old descendant of King Arthur of Round Table (and I’m not talking pizza) fame. On his birthday Henry seeks to follow in his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s footsteps and find adventure around every corner. Alas, the first bit of excitement he encounters is a smoke-rings blowing Dragon, not the fire-breathing one he so desperately hoped to battle.

Here parents can channel their best British accent when reading the bold print aloud: “BEHOLD, VILE WORM! I, HENRY ALFRED GRUMMORSON, A KNIGHT OF KING ARTHUR’S BLOOD, DO HEREBY CHALLENGE YOU TO A FIGHT TO THE UTTERMOST!” Henry’s demand to fight comes to naught when the docile Dragon suggests he look for the Cyclops, high in the mountains. The young lad, eager to uphold the family name, goes in search of the Cyclops who, like the Dragon, is more interested in playing, this time in a staring match. After that it’s onto a chess-playing Griffin and a less-than-lethal Leviathan, all wanting just one thing, friendship.

Will Henry discover that making friends beats doing battle? Kraegel conveys this and other important messages including: perseverance pays off, friends come in all shapes and sizes, appearing when we least expect them and stereotyping gets it all wrong every time because as the book shows, big does not necessarily mean one’s bad or a bully.

Illustration copyright Ⓒ 2012 by Kenneth Kraegel

Kraegel deftly blends his beautiful water color and ink illustrations with his well-timed text as readers follow along on Henry’s quest. Youngsters will want to join in repeating Henry’s loud declarations. Maybe even trying out their own Monty Pythonesque voice because the dialogue really calls for having fun with this story. My only recommendation is that parents first try this picture book out in the daytime (before knighttime) what with all Henry’s shouting and exclaiming, it might not be conducive to lulling your littlest ones to sleep!

Share this:

A New Golden Age of Epic Fantasy Fiction Shines On

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Book for Young Readers, ages 12 and up) is reviewed today by Jason Carpenter.

When George Lucas conceived of his Star Wars galaxy, he saw beyond the here and now of giving the people a rousing good yarn. He envisioned a mythology, a world logical and responsible only unto itself, with fantastical creatures that nonetheless felt of flesh and blood.  And like Tolkien before him and Rowling after, the devil- or the grip of imagination- is in the details. 

Rachel Hartman infuses her expansive new novel Seraphina– the saga of an uneasy alliance between mistrustful species (sound familiar?) and the young royal court’s musician who may end up being the key to ultimate harmony or lynchpin to inevitable war- with an eye for Joseph Campbell-like character and plot machinations and an adherence to a painstakingly created medieval alternaverse.

The oppositional species are, in this case, humans and dragons, and as Seraphina begins, a murder of a member of the royal court bearing the trademark savagery of a dragon attack threatens to derail the anniversary celebration of a historical, but tenuous, peace treaty between the two sides. In the midst of this pomp, Hartman also fully realizes the emergence of a young girl’s identity, the fiercely astute Seraphina, torturous as it may be to discover that her mother was a dragon. In a genre dominated by young empowered male principals, it’s  a wonderfully acute choice.

Seraphinas intended demographic, the young and young-at-heart, has proven they can handle the layered storylines, philosophical yearnings, and literal hundreds of major and minor characters that populate the modern fantasy epic. Indeed, Harry Potter’s enduring legacy may just be that it made digging intellectual sword and sorcery lit cool for a fresh generation of make-believers. This novel follows that template elegantly, and at over 450 pages with accompanying glossary, it’s weighty, as well.  The payoff- and it’s not the metaphoric allusions to our own world’s penchant for xenophobia- is in the small quirks of some strongly drawn supporting characters, particularly the reluctantly compassionate dragon mentor Orma, who cares for Seraphina in a way that his dragon demeanor would be loathe to reveal.

Seraphina does rise to rousing good yarn status, but its greatest triumph is in depicting grotesqueries that are anything but and a world that often doesn’t feel that far, far away after all.

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: