Too deeply in debt to engage human farmhands, 15-year-old Sarah Dewhurst’s father is forced to hire a dragon to clear their farm’s fields for planting. With Cold War tensions running high in an alternate 1957 America, employing a dragon, especially a rare Russian blue, is sure to be an unpopular move, but Sarah, who is biracial (black and white), already experiences daily racism in small-town Frome, Wash. Kazimir, the dragon, soon shows a mysterious interest in Sarah, offering protection from an unknown killer and indicating she may be the prophesied key to averting an apocalypse. In Canada, meanwhile, a teen called Malcolm, trained by a dragon-worshipping cult from childhood as an assassin, makes his way toward Frome on what he considers a “blessed” mission to save dragonkind. The relationship between Ness’s (And the Ocean Was Our Sky) inclusive human cast, which encompasses characters of various ethnicities, belief systems, and sexual orientations, and his dragons—feared as immeasurably powerful and philosophical, yet derided as rustic and used as sharecroppers—makes for an interesting Cold War analog. The densely layered, expertly paced plot builds and twists while revealing an alternate universe that cunningly echoes our world and its history. Ages 14–up. (June)
Horn Book Magazine
"Ness’s engrossing historical-fantasy adventure is at once accessible and complex, tackling both human issues—racism...war, religion—and grand fantasy action with skill."
Daily Mail (UK)
"Ness brilliantly juggles these multi-layered themes and twisting plot lines while creating a world where dragons are as richly imagined as humans and engage our emotions just as forcefully. He is a remarkable talent."
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Amid 1950s Cold War tension in their rural Washington town, high schoolers Sarah and Jason are just trying to survive racial harassment from the local deputy and, of course, the dragons. The conflicts run hot, prophecy is tricky to interpret, and things are not as they appear. Secrets, betrayals, and discoveries pile up as the first section of the story slams into the second half with a shocking plot twist. Weaving between historical fiction and science fiction, Ness tackles the terrifying uncertainty of the Cold War, the pre-Civil Rights racial tension, and the consequences of Japanese internment camps, then seamlessly blends LGBTQIA issues and a host of injustices without ever preaching. Featuring multiple protagonists, this story takes readers to two different universes, explains dragons in scientific terms, and retells the end of the Cold War for at least one of our worlds. Exciting, nonstop action and gloriously varied twists in the narrative will keep readers guessing all the way through to the breathless ending. VERDICT A highly recommended addition to any library from an acclaimed master of his craft.—Kristen Rademacher, Marist High School, Chicago
A young woman finds herself in the center of a struggle involving a prophecy about a coming war between humans and dragons.
Despite constant hard work, Sarah Dewhurst and her father find themselves in dire straits on their farm near Frome, Washington. Even though tensions exist between the two species, the dragon her father has hired seems to be their final hope. Nevertheless, Sarah and the dragon, Kazimir, forge a connection—even though he’s a blue dragon of Russian extraction, it’s 1957, and the Cold War is raging. Sarah, a biracial teen with a white father (her deceased mother was black), has enough difficulties in their community; she befriends Japanese American Jason Inagawa, whose family returned to the area after being interned during World War II, but without his mother, who died in Minidoka. At the same time, Malcolm, a young white man from a cult that worships dragons, is on the road, pursuing a mission and being trailed by two mysterious FBI agents who seek to halt whatever the Believers are planning. It becomes clear that Sarah is to play a central role in the prophecy’s dénouement. This fast-paced narrative has elements of alternate history, fantasy, multiverse, and apocalyptic literature. The many plot twists and multiple perspectives create an intensity that makes this a page-turner. In addition to the action, themes of teens coping with racism, homophobia, and grief are interwoven.
A gripping, powerful novel of courage and resilience. (Fantasy. 14-18)
The Observer (London)
"A wild ride of fanaticism, redemption, assasins and dragon-worshippers. Mind-bending in the best possible way."
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
"Ness brings together history, fantasy, and science fiction in one masterful stroke, interweaving the tropes of each genre to create a unique blend that offers readers an unpredictable but impeccably paced mind trip."
Booklist (starred review)
Ness has never been afraid to push boundaries when it comes to genre exploration, but this is a truly magnificent piece of fiction.... The concept is striking, the characters compelling, and the story enthralling. Even for Ness, this is a singular effort."