I generally dislike books written specifically for teenagers and preteens. As a teacher, I prefer students to devote their time reading good literature instead of empty novels. Teenagers are mature enough to understand and gain from great writers, and even preteens can appreciate the works of J.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen.
However, I recognize that not all youth will read these classics, and given the choice of reading the entire Star Wars collection or not reading, I would prefer that they read. I ask that those books written for youth should follow C.S. Lewis’s criteria for children’s books. “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
To be truly enjoyable, a book must not just spin a good tale but also provoke the intellect. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia achieve both of these ends as does Madeline L’Engle’s tales.
Donita K. Paul‘s novel,Dragons of the Valley, strives to entertain and stimulate, but does not master either. The fantasy novel amuses, but despite its attempt at allegory, it fails to truly enlighten the reader.
In Dragons of the Valley, a wizard, an artist and a princess must protect a trio of statues that provide stability to the peaceful land of Chiril. When the safety of statues are threatened from a pending war, those given charge of the statues smuggle them to a safe location and then help their country defeat a more powerful, wicked foe.
The world of Chiril is well crafted and interesting. Paul has spent time constructing a place filled with various races and creatures. She uses clear, simple language, allowing her readers can appreciate her world.
Paul incorporates her Christian faith into Dragons of the Valley tastefully. She is not preachy or heavy handed in her approach to faith. On their adventure, Paul’s protagonists individually believe in and praise Wulder, the name of God in Chiril. Many Christian authors have their character’s problems resolved as a result of saving faith. Paul is not so naive. She shows her characters slowly growing in their faith and in their knowledge of Wulder. Their transformation is not instantaneous, and after their conversion, they must still struggle to defeat various challenges.
In Dragons of the Valley, the dragons were believable, but many of the characters were not. Even Paul’s protagonists were stock characters. The wise but odd wizard who could have passed as a sketch of Gandolf or Dumbledore. The princess was beautiful, stubborn, and more than once in distress.
Perhaps because the characters were so incomplete, the romance was also unbelievable. Both the romantic episodes and the battles were told to the reader, not shown. As a reader, I had to believe that the princess and this man loved each other because the author told me so. I learned the outcome of the battles through messengers and not by witnessing them. In both cases, the events that reportedly occurred seemed false to me.
In other ways the story and allegory felt incomplete, but I recognize that this book is only a sequel in the Chiril Chronicles. Perhaps both the characters, the story and the analogy to Christianity is better addressed by the entire series.
The book provides an imaginative adventure. Lovers of fantasy and youthful readers might enjoy this tale; however, there are many other better books that I would prefer they read.
(While I am grateful to Water Brook Multnomah for a free copy of this book, the opinion expressed is my own.)