Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reader's Review: "Backyard Dragons" by Lee French

Synopsis from Amazon:

Portland has a dragon problem.

Now genuinely a Spirit Knight, sixteen-year-old Claire wants to know everything about the job. Fate dumps a dragon on her and she only has more questions. She knows how much she needs training and wishes she could snap her fingers to learn everything at once.
Justin can answer Claire's questions, but between his demanding young daughters, his sarcastic horse, and the recent loss of his own mentor, he'd rather just be a Knight. No one told him adopting an apprentice would devour all his free time and dredge up the past.
In this sequel to Girls Can't Be Knights, Claire and Justin face dragons, ghosts, witches, echoes, and memories. Their survival and the fate of Portland may depend on Justin's intellect.

They're doomed.
>>>>

My Review:
 
With how much I enjoyed Girls Can't Be Knights, coupled with the fact that this one DEFINITELY promised dragons, I was all gung-ho for this!
Then it all seemed to topple over sideways. But it was okay, because of several reasons I will explain. (Beware of spoilers... there shouldn't be too many, but I might drop hints that may constitute spoilers... advance at your peril... unless anything short of a point-blank give-away doesn't really ruin it for you... that's all I want, is to avoid ruining a perfectly decent book!)

So the basic conflict from Book 1 (The Spirit Knights declining to recognize Claire as a knight) was in fact NOT resolved as I expected it to be, and still manages to drive this book. 
What's different? Justin is tired. He's too tired to continue the trend from the first book and engage in improving his relationship with Claire, with raising his own daughters, and supporting his wife as much as she supports him. He's tired so that isolates him... and because he is pretty much the only person Claire trusts, it isolates her from the things Justin hasn't explained yet.

The dragons are definitely there, and one of them bonds with Claire—but Sleepy Justin can't tell her much about them, because he doesn't know, so Claire has to do it herself.
The dragon also reveals that somebody powerful has all the dragons bound and under a spell in his sister-in-law's back yard—but she's only a minor garden witch, so she couldn't possibly be that powerful. So who else is going around imprisoning dragons and gathering power to destroy the Spirit Knights and the Palace that is all that remains of their dimension? What will it take for Claire to finally gain recognition as a full-fledged Spirit Knight when the very Heart of the Palace is demeaning and dismissive toward her?

While the narrative's starting point really felt like a huge step backward from all the development that Book 1 promised, I will say that it dealt with the conflicts and character choices well enough. I bonded with Claire too much, I think, to really understand why she had to go through such crap as she did in this book. The "trials" to gain her official Spirit Knight weapon seemed almost teetering on the brink of "too intense for kids", and not very fair for a young teen who has JUST found a home, to be suddenly thrust into a circumstance that a) forces her to watch people around her die, and b) causes her unfathomable pain, and could potentially lead to her death. 

And that's not even the central conflict.

All I can say is, the ensuing crux of the overall series arc has GOT to be something truly world-shattering, because this book felt like a massive jump from the last one and a whole lot of build up for not enough closure. (There was closure, all right... but there were also threads left wide open...) 

That being said, I would still give this a *****5 STAR***** rating. I do recognize the relational themes and life issues that the story tries to address, about trusting the wrong people, about getting "emotionally blind" and taking too much of your attachment to other people for granted, that they could be neck-deep in something terrible but you wouldn't know it because you can't see past your assumptions of them; of the likelihood of a teenager to actually go through some of the extreme situations metaphorically represented here, and that the reality of their struggles should not be dismissed or discounted because of their age. The trauma is real. 

Lots of insights to be had here, and not to be missed!! I haven't given up on this series yet! Onward, Spirit Knights!
 
Further Reading: (Urban Fantasy/Young-ish Reader/Decent Series)
 
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist
       -The Pinocchio Factor
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight  
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse