Penny Chrimes, The Dragon and Her Boy, Hachette Children’s Books, 23 February 2021, 384 pp., RRP $15.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781510107120
Stick is a gutterling, living on the streets of London. Along with Sparrow and Spud, he uses his tumbling skills to make a few pennies for food. But this London summer has become unbearably hot, it’s almost as if the heat is coming up from below. When a series of rumbles tosses about the visitors to the Bartlemy Market, Stick finds himself alone. He’s lost Sparrow and Spud. When he investigates a crack in the ground, in the hope of finding his friends, he finds a dragon. A cantankerous, stuck dragon who likes crumpets and snossages but admits, guiltily, to have recently snacked on “childers”. The dragon is surprised that Stick understands her – for only true knights understand dragons – but there are more important things on Stick’s mind. He remembers seeing a figure in the streets, one he had hoped never to see again. He knows that this figure is the reason his friends are gone and probably has something to do with the dragon’s current predicament. He vows to help the dragon unstick herself but he’s going to need her help to uncover the mystery behind his lost friends and an older mystery of lost children. He must take the dragon back to the one place he hoped never to have to visit again and face the man, the figure, who he knows is behind it all. He also must allow painful memories long-squashed to the cupboard of his mind to spill forth so that he can save his friends, himself and the dragon.
The Dragon and Her Boy is a fantasy story that is both rich in imagination and rich in language. Peppered with a mix of English slang and a potpourri of made-up words, it beautifully balances light and dark; Stick’s past, the man who isn’t above feeding children to dragons and the death of gutterling Tiddy Doll are lightened by the friendships between the gutterlings. The playful use of language is as much a feature of the book as the dragon and difficulty in understanding the language is allayed by the inclusion of a dictionary at the back of the book. The character of the dragon is an interesting variation on typical dragon characters – she’s moody, vain and easily appeased. The dragon is a rounded, developed character in comparison to the typically power-hungry and evil antagonist, a contrast which assists in lightening the darker themes.
This is a beautiful, immersive fantasy recommended for ages 9 and up.
Reviewed by Pam Ueckerman