fiction favorites…Thomas and the Dragon Queen

Thomas and the Dragon Queen, story by Shutta Crum, pictures by Lee Wildish

After a long moment, [the king] shuddered and continued, “…a slumbering vileness has reawakened.  I’ve just had word that the dragon Bridgoltha has abducted the Princess Eleanor.”
Thomas gasped.  He knew the tales of Bridgoltha, the queen of the dragons…The dragon’s name was rarely spoken aloud.  There were reports that whole fields of wheat shriveled when she passed overhead, and that chickens who saw her stopped laying eggs.  Thomas recalled the painting in the chapel — the scene of villagers fleeing in the shadow of a ferocious dragon.  He wasn’t sure if these old tales were true, but the thought that she still lived filled him with dread.  He felt a sickening weakness seep into his bones.
Yet T homas lowered his head, took a deep breath and said, “My liege, I am but one, and perhaps…not stout.  Still, I am one who has lived awaiting a great quest to serve my king.”

Thomas, the eldest son of a poor leathersmith, is elated when Sir Gerald chooses to bring him into the king’s household to learn the ways of a squire.  Because he is so small for his age, Thomas has to endure no end of ridicule from the other boys.  Yet his inner qualities more than make up for his size — his quick mind, courageous spirit, wisdom and compassion — and one day, when the vast majority of the king’s men are at the northern frontiers fighting border wars, Thomas finds himself the only possible choice to rescue the aging king’s daughter, Eleanor, from the den of an infamous dragon queen.

Thomas’ quest takes him far across unknown countryside, into mortal combat with the many-headed beast of the lake,  and over a treacherous channel of the sea, before he even reaches Barren Isle, home of the gigantic, fire-breathing dragon.  When he finally does meet Bridgoltha, it will require all his inner resources, and the wisdom he has gained from painful mistakes, to see the Princess safely home and the countryside safe from further assaults by the dragon.  For, Bridgoltha is a very unusual dragon queen with some highly unusual demands.

This is a very nice adventure-tale for kids too young for heftier, bloodier fare — perhaps 6-10 year olds.  Maybe even a bit younger if you have stout listeners.  It is well-written, full of medieval expressions and knightly adventure with the added plus of a fire-breathing dragon.  The story contains enough chilling tentacles and battering seas to satisfy thrill-seekers, yet manages a lightness and warmth of tone that keep it buoyed above darker, older fantasy.  There are also several nice twists in the princess and dragon characters which keep this from becoming predictable.  At 260 pages, it’s not a short book, but it’s fast-paced.

I do have quibbles with the illustrations.  They seem a bit too cartoon-like and silly for the tone of the book.  Thomas is 13 years old, yet appears to be about 5 on the cover.  I know he’s short, but in most of the pictures he resembles a toddler.  The dragon on the cover looks like a goofy, orange, sleepyhead, which is not at all the personality of the dragon queen of the story.  At any rate, don’t be misled by the cover and illustrations.  It’s not a comic book.  It’s really a respectable adventure that I think lots of boys, especially, would enjoy.