A magical middle-grade fantasy story filled with powerful political messages, tied up in a gripping and exciting plot.
Twelve year old Milla loves her dusty home city, Arcosi, despite the smells from foul drains and rotting fish. Her life as a servant isn’t perfect – as the youngest everyone is constantly loading new errands on her – but she is, at least, safe from life on the streets. This is a blessing given the duke’s soldiers roam the city day and night, fuelling the increasing tensions between the ruling Norlander people and the increasingly marginalised Sartolans. When Milla climbs into an orange tree for a much needed break, she hopes for a few minutes’ peace but, instead, witnesses a man being murdered. Only moments before the bloody murder, the murdered man hides something in the tree next to Milla – a pannier of four dragon’s eggs – paving the way for the return of the mythical dragons of Arcosi.
On the surface this is a traditional middle-grade fantasy story. Milla is a strong and appealing heroine, struggling with her lot in life at the start and blossoming as the dragon eggs begin to hatch. The four eggs hatch into different coloured dragons, each of whom bond with a young person (Milla, the duke’s son and the twins, Tarya and Isak, whose family Milla serves). The interplay between the dragons and their paired young people is well worth reading – especially given the lyrical beauty of Liz Flanagan’s writing.
However, what makes this book stand out is the themes that the plot explores. This includes ideas about friendship and loyalty, as well as about family as Milla’s heritage is revealed to her. Most impactful of all is the exploration of the duke’s quest for power and control of the island of Arcosi. The mounting tension between the ruling Norlander people and the Sartolans is particularly topical given the current political climate, and the treatment of the Sartolans disturbing to the say the least. This already complex situation becomes even more so when the descendants of the original islanders of Arcosi start to arrive to see the dragons. As the book unfolds, the reader is quietly challenged to think about the unfairness of discrimination and also about the rights of those from other lands. This reaches a climax when the duke gives the order to drive the people from the island, dismissing the fact the brewing storm would mean sending them to almost guaranteed death. These are powerful messages, all tied up in a gripping and exciting plot.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to join me in reading the second in the series – Rise of the Shadow Dragons by Liz Flanagan. Alternatively, for another magical middle-grade fantasy adventure why not try the The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike.
Publication Date: May 2019
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Author’s website: Liz Flanagan