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Thursday, April 1, 2010

'Voices of Dragons' by Carrie VAUGHN

From the BLURB:

On one side of the border lies the modern world: the internet, homecoming dances, cell phones. On the other side dwell the ancient monsters who spark humanity's deepest fears: dragons.

Seventeen-year-old Kay Wyatt knows she's breaking the law by rock climbing near the border, but she'd rather have an adventure than follow the rules. When the dragon Artegal unexpectedly saves her life, the rules are abruptly shattered, and a secret friendship grows between them.

But suspicion and terror are the legacy of human and dragon inter­actions, and the fragile truce that has maintained peace between the species is unraveling. As tensions mount and battles begin, Kay and Artegal are caught in the middle. Can their friendship change the course of a war?

Ms. Vaughn has made an urban fantasy name for herself with the ‘Kitty Norville’ series (currently with 7 books). ‘Voices of Dragons’ not only marks Ms. Vaughn’s first stand-alone novel, but her first YA.

I really, really wanted to like this book… but I didn’t

I had such high hopes for ‘Voices of Dragons’. I was thrilled when Vaughn first announced that she was branching out and not only writing a stand-alone, but writing for a totally different readership. Great. I love the ‘Kitty Norville’ books and because of that I am willing to give anything Carrie Vaughn writes, a try.
I liked the premise – or at least how Vaughn first pitched the book on her blog: “Carrie's first young adult novel is just your typical ‘girl meets dragon’ story. With bonus rock climbing and jet fighters!”. And I loved the cover.

Unfortunately while I loved the premise and the cover, I didn’t love the book itself.
For one thing the action takes a long time to kick into high gear. It wasn’t until page 167 that the plot really picks up and gets interesting. Everything before that felt like a lot of dragging narrative. And part of the problem is the fact that I felt disconnected from the characters. The whole story is about a girl, Kay, meeting and befriending a dragon, Artegal. But there aren’t enough scenes between Kay and Artegal – and what little scenes there are aren’t long enough and Artegal doesn’t have enough of a personality to carry in them.

I think part of the reason I felt disconnected from the characters was the third-person narrative. Not having Kay’s interiority meant that I didn’t really get to know her, she remained an enigma and ultimately not very interesting. I think Vaughn tries to make up for the lack of Kay’s perspective by giving her an adventurous streak. The opening chapter of the book has Kay rock-climbing; something she does frequently, sometimes illegally and without her parent’s knowledge. She’s meant to come across as an edgy daredevil – but her penchant for secret rock climbing doesn’t match up with her otherwise shy, self-doubting personality.
Having said that, one thing I appreciated about ‘Voices of Dragons’ was that Vaughn let her YA protagonist be a hero. Kay does step-up to a difficult situation and try to make a difference – and that’s great. I love that the young adult protagonist is a real champion.

I also felt like Carrie Vaughn was writing self-consciously for her YA audience. She includes a secondary storyline about Kay and her long-time guy friend, turned maybe-crush, Jon. Kay’s best girl friend, Tam, has recently started dating and is desperate for Kay and Jon to ‘hook up’ and for Kay to discover the amazingness of sex. It’s a rather contrite subplot about Kay feeling self-conscious because she’s 17 and not particularly interested in dating or sex, so she wonders if there’s something wrong with her. This little plot felt as though Vaughn was ticking a YA box – as though having a ‘teen romance’ and ‘sexual-identity conflict’ is a must. But I felt no connection between Kay and Jon and that whole plot felt so mechanical and obligatory that it just did not work for me on any level.

One of the things I liked about ‘Voices of Dragons’ was the alternate history Vaughn wrote for the dragons. In this alternate reality dragons, much like dinosaurs, once roamed the earth thousands of years ago, but eventually went underground to become the stuff of human myth and legend. It wasn’t until 1945 when the atomic bombs went off in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the world shook and awakened the dragons. They emerged from the earth’s core and changed the course of history. Instead of the iron curtain falling over the world, the Cold War never happened – instead ‘The Silver River Treaty’ forced America, Canada and the Soviet Union to come together and negotiate the ceding of territories to the dragons. Humans and dragons decided to erect borders and keep to themselves.

Fantastic stuff. Very detailed and something Ms. Vaughn has clearly spent a good deal of time mapping out and thinking about. And it feels believable – this idea that today the human/dragon border is patrolled by fighter-jets and that the tender treaty is at constant risk from humanity’s need to be top of the food chain.

“I think you’re right.” He turned to Kay. “Planes have nicknames. The B-17 was the Flying Fortress. The P-51 Mustang. The B-26 Marauder. This new one, the F-22. You know what the guys are calling it?”
She shook her head.
“The Dragonslayer,” he said.

I also love the irony of man’s most devastating creation (the atomic bomb) awakening one of our oldest fables, the dragon. Wonderful stuff – it’s just disappointing that such a fantastic premise falls short.

I really wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. I still love Carrie Vaughn, and I am excited that her second stand-alone novel, ‘Discord’s Apple’ is coming out July 20 this year. I am somewhat relieved that ‘Discord’s Apple’ is an adult book and not at all related to the ‘Voices of Dragons’ world though.



  1. Danielle,

    I'm sorry this one didn't do it for you. I hate it when I've anticipated a book for so long only to read it and be disappointed.


  2. I love the Kitty series but had no desire to read this book, I can't really say why. Sorry you didn't enjoy it though.

    I hadn't heard anything about this new book, Discord's Apple. Off to check it out!


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