Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones

Dragons vs. Drones
by Wesley King
Recommended Ages: 11+

Marcus, 12, has been searching for his missing father since he was 4 years old, refusing to believe George Brimley was a traitor to his country. During that time, he has noticed a freaky pattern in the dates of each year's biggest storm to hit Alexandria, Virginia - the day of the month has been counting down. Somehow, Marcus knows this is connected with his father's disappearance. This year, when a big storm blows up on the first of the month, Marcus pedals his bicycle right into the heart of it, heedless of swirling black clouds, flickering lightning, and the suspicious fact that a bunch of drones are chasing him. At the heart of the storm, he guts sucked into a parallel dimension, to a city called Dracone, where the drones immediately begin blowing stuff up, killing people, and attacking the dragons that, incidentally, exist there.

The dragons of Dracone come in four flavors: Nightwings, Sages, Outliers, and Flames. Some of them have been allies of mankind for a long time, but that time is now over. Francis Xidorne, the country's new prime minister, has decided to modernize his country, and that means doing away with the dragons and people who sympathize with them. The first person Marcus meets in Dracone is a member of the new underclass, a 12-year-old girl named Dree, whose father was a dragon rider before the regime changed. Stripped of their wealth, her family now lives in a waterfront shack, and Dree and her mother work hard to support her crippled father and the younger kids. Both Dree and Marcus have the same mysterious gift, or maybe it's a curse - their skin doesn't burn, but sometimes fire comes out of their fingertips. Dree also has a secret: the Nightwing dragon Lourdvang, whom she raised from a hatchling.

Between them, boy, girl, and dragon resolve to fight the drones that are destroying the poorer parts of Dracone, and that are also beginning to exterminate the dragons. Using Dree's genius as a welder and an inventor, Marcus' gifts as a computer whiz, and Lourdvang's ability to fly, they start a small rebellion that, through sheer spunk, spreads to include at least three dragon clans. Saving Dracone from the deadly drones will involve solving the mystery of Marcus' father's disappearance, seeking an object of great magical power that they believe is hidden in the world's most impenetrable fortress, and surviving action scenes packed with unbelievable excitement. Also, it will require a sequel, picking up on the other side of the portal between Dree's world and ours.

This is a fun, screwy adventure, full of magical thrills, high-tech gadgetry, and danger. The dialogue is snappy; the characters have a lot of emotionally grueling issues to work through; and it proves themes of black-helicopter paranoia, coexistence with sentient alien creatures, the impact of space-age technology on the environment, and family melodrama can be mixed with good results. It also shows how quickly a nervous nerd like Marcus can develop into a swashbuckling hero, once he's in his proper element; the image of him free-falling from the back of a drone that he has just disabled in mid-flight, screaming, "Anyone?" while dragons and drones battle each other around him, seems likely to be my most durable memory of this book. On the other hand, I felt a little let-down by the way Dree's family dropped out of the storyline. After setting up her devotion to her sister Abi, the book proceeds to make awkward excuses for keeping the sisters apart after a relatively early point in the plot. The family drama aspect of the story would be more interesting if the family were more present.

Wesley King is the Canadian author of The Vindico, The Feros, The Incredible Space Raiders (From Space!), OCDaniel, and Laura Monster Crusher, besides the sequel to this book, titled Enemy of the Realm, and the upcoming book The World Below, set for release in March 2018. His works have won several awards, including a 2017 Edgar Award for "best juvenile" (for OCDaniel).

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