4 April 2017

Review - Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas

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Dragon's Green (Worldquake Book One)
Scarlett Thomas
Canongate Books, 6 April 2017
HB, 352pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

This is, I think, Thomas's first book not for adults (It's described as YA but I'd have said perhaps YYA... I'm never really sure of the boundaries though). I should confess that I asked to read it because it's one of hers - having read and enjoyed her books for adults, I didn't really know what to expect, but was interested to see what she had written.

Which just shows the wonders of chance and coincidence because - apart from that perhaps rather dry sense of interest - this book was a real joy to read, reminding me a lot of the magical worlds of Diana Wynne Jones. Like them, the world of Dragon's Green is plainly, to a degree our world, though also (changed here, by the 'Worldquake') into one where magic might be real (even if not everyone believes in it). There's a similar sense that old secrets are all around, encrypted somehow, if only we could see them, or sleeping, just ready to be woken.

In this story it's Euphemia Truelove (Effie) who will uncover the secrets. She's a lonely girl: her mother Aurora... gone... in a way which has an air of mystery about (the Worldquake?) and her father, Orwell, distant, preoccupied by his new wife Cait (Cait is perhaps a bit of a wicked stepmother but not really strong enough a character to be really wicked). Effie attends the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange) where she mingles with a wider group of other misfits and lonely kids (Carl, Maximilian, Lexy) - not all of them to be trusted.

When Griffin, Effie's beloved grandfather, is attacked in the street and taken to hospital, Effie begins a race against time to save his beloved library of rare and magical books - and the even stranger and more magical items he's entrusted to her care. Doing so involves Effie and her classmates sinking themselves into Stories, following Quests - and testing their friendship. All while under the thumb of the awful Mrs Beathag Hide, Effie's English teacher, of Orwell and of Cait (who's got the family on a diet of nutritionless shakes).

It's all great fun, never more so that when Effie actually gets to visit Dragon's Green, where princesses are trained to be fed to the dragon. In a welcome contrast to the typical fairy story treatment of a clanking , metal-clad knight saving a limp and grateful princess, Effie selects a cool outfit and sets out to match wits with him.

Then there's the awful Diberi, evil sorcerers whose worst crime is to use up and destroy books. A creepy book dealer. And a houseful of existential poets (dressed in black, naturally) who guard the secret of the Underworld...

This book is smart, packed with clever literary allusions (the passages spouted by the existentialists; a creepy encounter in the market with some goblin men selling their tempting fruits) as well as genuinely funny asides ('Could one arrive to save one's evil co-conspirator in a minicab? Perhaps not') and sharp observations ('the cruel courtship rituals of celebrities').

In places the tone is perhaps slightly uneven (a vital concept about a kind of otherworld magical life-force that governs what one can do is referred to as 'M-currency' which grates slightly in a book that's full of ingenious names and wordplay and which also shows a real sense of place).

Above all, though, Effie is a true hero (she really is - a True Hero; you'll need to read the book to find out what this means) and a rather magnificent one at that. This is a story of how she finds her mates and how they support her, but she's front and centre of the story and clearly destined for more adventures. They can't come soon enough.

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