Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10-13

Prince Rashko, a 14-year old prince, is frustrated by his family. They're so dumb. His parents are kind, but simple; his older brother Paulek, while a near-perfect warrior, is content to let Rashko do all the heavy thinking. They all live in Hladka Hvorka, a castle rumored to have magical origins, and there is peace in Rashko's parents' land - until Rashko's parents disappear, and the Baron Temny shows up, expecting his young hosts to accommodate him and his entourage. The Baron also brings his 'daughter' with him as a potential bride for Paulek, who is thrilled to have company. Rashko suspects that neither there is more to both the Baron and his daughter, and works to find his parents and keep Hladka Hvorka in his family's name.

Running parallel to Rashko's story is the story of the legendary warrior Pavol, a hero in Rashko's land. Orphaned when an evil king took his parents' land and murdered them, Pavol is raised by a husband and wife living in the magical woodlands on the outskirts of the castle, and trained for the day he will avenge his parents' deaths. This legend eventually converges with Rashko's story, and he learns that Hladka Hvorka holds even more secrets than he imagined.

Author Joseph Bruchac is Native American and Slovakian, and draws upon his Slovakian heritage for Dragon Castle. The book contains phrases and words in Slovakian, always reinforced in English, and includes a glossary in the back. It is a great way to introduce younger readers to a new language within a fantasy setting.

The story is woven like a classic hero's tale, with adventure and humor in equal parts. Rashko comes across as a bit petulant and stuck-up at times, particularly in the beginning of the book when he spends most of his time lamenting his superior intelligence and his parents' and brother's abject stupidity, but he's an adolescent - he's written well. He also realizes, as he gets deeper into his family's background, that there is more to his parents - and possibly, his brother - than he ever thought possible, and this gives him pause.

Having two male main characters is a great way to bring this adventure fantasy to male readers; supplemental female characters will not draw any female readers in that weren't planning on reading it already, but Dragon Castle is a strong fantasy tale that should appeal to boys and girls who enjoy fantasy, complete with evil sorcery, dragons, and castles.

Joseph Bruchac's website focuses mainly on his music and poetry and features .mp3 files for listeners to enjoy. There is some information about his books and schedule available.

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