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Dragonhaven    by Robin McKinley order for
by Robin McKinley
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dragonhaven is a departure from Robin McKinley's usual tales of fantasy, but equally involving. It's set in a world much like our own modern one, except that dragons are not mythical there but rather an endangered species that exist in a few Jurassic Park-like refuges - enclosed by high-tech dragonproof fences - around the world.

The fourteen-year-old narrator, Jake Mendoza, lives with his Dad, who is in charge of one such refuge, the U.S. Smokehill National Park. Father and son still grieve for Jake's mother, who died in an accident a few years before. Two other children are homeschooled at Smokehill - twelve-year-old Martha and her small but incredibly strongwilled sister Eleanor (their calm mother Katie also works at the Institute). They all help out with the orphaned animals and try to avoid the fruit loops (tourists). The best Rangers in the Park are Native Americans, mainly Arkholas. They spend a great deal of their time counting the remains of dragon dinners, as few dragons have ever been spotted.

The excitement begins when Jake takes his first overnight solo. He finds a dying dragon (shot by a poacher) that has just given birth - and one of her babies is still alive. The infant imprints on Jake and needs his constant care, and to be continually held, even though it burns his skin. He calls the small lizard Lois, and the Arkholas help him with her. But they have to keep the dragonlet's existence a secret because of an old law still on the books with severe penalties for all concerned. And, since encountering the dragon mother, Jake has had a continual headache and odd dreams.

Of course Lois grows and it becomes increasingly harder to keep her existence a secret. Complicating matters are the poacher's wealthy parents who instigate a campaign to destroy all the Park's dragons. Matters reach crisis point when Jake and Lois are away at remote Westcamp. Military choppers are sent into the Park at the same time as Jake and Lois make contact with others of her kind. As always, Robin McKinley deals credibly and empathetically with communication between humans and dragonkind, and with the challenges Jake faces in raising a baby of another species. Dragonhaven is a wonderful coming of age story, highly recommended.

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