From the publisher: A young Indigenous woman enters a colonizer-run dragon academy—and quickly finds herself at odds with the “approved” way of doing things.
Harry Potter meets Temeraire in this magical-school-with-dragons series launch.
Anequs lives with her people on a remote island, living a life her people have lived for many generations. They have an uneasy relationship with the Anglish, conquerors who see Anequs and her people as uncivilized barbarians. To have a dragon is a rare thing, and there has been no dragon among her people for many years. She finds a dragon egg, and the hatchling bonds with her. Her brother, who has left the island, tells her, “There’s a ministry for dragons. The Anglish have a ministry for everything. Dragons are supposed to be registered, and dragoneers need to be tested to prove they’re competent, because dragons are dangerous. There’s going to be trouble with the law if you don’t enroll in an academy.” (p. 27 of the advance reader copy)
An Indigenous person with a dragon is not something the Anglish dragoneers approve of, but there are some individuals working to change perceptions of the Indigenous people, and Anequs is reluctantly enrolled in an Anglish dragon school. Only one other girl is enrolled, and only one boy from an Indigenous people.
The world building is slow. You might even say languorous. We see what life is like on the island for Anequs and her kin. We hear about their food and drink. We hear their stories. We watch their dances.
Once Anequs makes it to school, the world building is also slow. She is hot tempered and often says and does things that are not wise. Most of her teachers and fellow students don’t want her there. They invent rules for her and the Indigenous boy. Everyone assumes she knows things about Anglish school that she does not. But she is also smart and clever, and she learns despite the odds against her.
I enjoyed To Shape a Dragon’s Breath very much, while also finding it a bit slow. Its strengths include world building, character development, and diverse representation. But there is also virtually no action until the end of the book, there are a LOT of new words/altered words to figure out, the author is fond of telling instead of showing, and some of the ideas she is trying to get across are repeated over and over. Still, I recommend it and look forward to the sequel.
I read an advance reader copy of To Shape a Dragon’s Breath. It will be published on May 9 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.