The Last Dragon
Story By Jane Yolen
Illustrated By Rebecca Guay
Review by Claire Miller
But two weeks later, after the harvest was in, Tam the carpenter’s finest draft horse, the big gray gelding, was stolen. Seven days later, two prize ewes were taken from Mother Comfy’s fold. (…) A few days after that, the latest of the cooper’s twelve children disappeared from its cradle in the meadow, where the others had left it while they went to pick blaeberries in the dell. No one mentioned dragons. After all, they knew with absolute conviction that dragons were no more.
For the first time since the supposed extermination of the dragons two hundred years ago a dragon egg, freed by a falling tree, hatches. Tansy, the youngest daughter of the village healer, and a healer herself, discovers fireweed, a plant not seen since the last of the dragons were killed. When her father disappears, only his herb sack, burned on the edges, is found. Before long, livestock and villagers begin to disappear and accusations fly. But after a fisherman is nearly devoured, the village must confront the fact that they face a dragon. The logical solution, of course, is to find a hero, and three young boys are sent to find one while the village arms to defend itself. The boys return with a man who looks the part, but has no idea what to do with a dragon. Instead, it is Tansy who puts together a plan using the skills of the entire village to save them all.
The first thing I loved about this book is the incredibly lush, detailed, and nearly dreamlike illustrations of Rebecca Guay, best know for her work on Swamp Thing, and illustrations for Magic: The Gathering. Indeed, I first discovered the book through a promotional giveaway print of the front cover.
The exquisite illustrations are matched by Jane Yolen’s masterful narrative. Yolen, author of numerous children’s and YA books, including Owl Moon and Sword of the Rightful King, creates a magical world with dragons, while avoiding the traditional tropes of either classic fairy tales, or modern fantasy.
The combination of an unusual fantasy plot with the beautiful, otherworldly illustrations let me immerse myself in the world Yolen and Guay have created. I emerged from the book with a smile on my face, surprised to no longer be surrounded by swirls of narrative and color.
Part of what makes Yolen’s narrative so captivating is that every character, no matter how minor, has their own voice and story. The dragon is not like the personified, friendly dragon most often found in YA fantasy, but a creature of appetite and animal cunning. Tansy, the main character in the book, looks the part of a dreamer, while having a deeply practical turn of mind. Her mother, father, and sisters are all fully figured characters as well, who each react to the events of the book in their own way. Lancot, the “hero” who must admit he does not know what to do, has motivations and a past that allow him to be more than a failure.
This book is perfect for both adults and YA readers. The language of the book is both original and easy to comprehend. Combined with Guay’s illustrations, the story builds a original world, without falling into the trap of a “standard fantasy” setting. The combination of inspired storytelling and museum-worthy art will entrance and lure even those readers who would not usually read a graphic novel. This book also solved the problem of what to get my nieces and nephew for the holidays. If you like fantasy with a creative bent, I highly recommend The Last Dragon .
EDITOR CORRECTION: We mistakenly attributed Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars to Ms. Yolen. Ms. Yolen wrote The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose. Bookshelf Bombshells apologizes and thanks Ms. Yolen for alerting us to this error.
Buy It: Because a fantasy like this needs to be savored and shared.
THE LAST DRAGON
JANE YOLEN AND REBECCA GUAY
DARK HORSE COMICS
$29.99 (HARDCOVER), 141 P.