Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose. This was a story I’ve been anticipating for a while. Who doesn’t love a good dragon school tale? Did it live up to my expectations? Read on to find out!
A young Indigenous woman enters a colonizer-run dragon academy—and quickly finds herself at odds with the “approved” way of doing things—in the first book of this brilliant new fantasy series.
The remote island of Masquapaug has not seen a dragon in many generations—until fifteen-year-old Anequs finds a dragon’s egg and bonds with its hatchling. Her people are delighted, for all remember the tales of the days when dragons lived among them and danced away the storms of autumn, enabling the people to thrive. To them, Anequs is revered as Nampeshiweisit—a person in a unique relationship with a dragon.
Unfortunately for Anequs, the Anglish conquerors of her land have different opinions. They have a very specific idea of how a dragon should be raised, and who should be doing the raising—and Anequs does not meet any of their requirements. Only with great reluctance do they allow Anequs to enroll in a proper Anglish dragon school on the mainland. If she cannot succeed there, her dragon will be killed.
For a girl with no formal schooling, a non-Anglish upbringing, and a very different understanding of the history of her land, challenges abound—both socially and academically. But Anequs is smart, determined, and resolved to learn what she needs to help her dragon, even if it means teaching herself. The one thing she refuses to do, however, is become the meek Anglish miss that everyone expects.
Anequs and her dragon may be coming of age, but they’re also coming to power, and that brings an important realization: the world needs changing—and they might just be the ones to do it.
***Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
This book did not work for me quite as well as I had hoped it would. There were plenty of things I liked, but they were overshadowed by just how boring and drawn out the story became. It didn’t help that the writing was incredibly matter of fact and detached, which kept me from becoming emotionally attached to the main character.
The world-building was a bit of a mixed bag. I really loved it at first even though there was a steep learning curve. The alternative history and culture of both the Indigenous people and the Viking colonizers were incredibly fascinating. I enjoyed learning about it all from context and experiencing it alongside the characters. Unfortunately, it got stale after a bit. Pretty much the entire story was just teaching the main character about the culture of the colonizers and having her think it was weird. This repeated over and over again with different customs, and it just got old and boring long before the book reached its end.
I also really wanted more of the academics and dragons. The book focused so heavily on Anequs’ social life and her adjustment to the culture shock. Everything else seemed like an afterthought, which was a shame because there was a lot of interesting stuff in this book. The magic system was so unique, a blend of dancing, drawing, and chemistry, but it was used so little in the story. Furthermore, there were only one or two actual dragon lessons in this entire book about a dragon school. It was a huge disappointment because I definitely wanted more dragon action.
My favorite thing about the book was how it compared the motivations and day to day life of the two very different societies, one Indigenous and one Western. It called into question the very notion of what it means to be ‘civilized’ and left me thinking about how progress can be conceptualized in radically different ways by other cultures. The story illustrated just how unnecessary, and a bit ridiculous, many of the excesses of capitalism truly are. It also highlighted an alternative way of life to the chasing of endless growth and showed one way to live more in harmony with nature. It was all very thought-provoking.
I cannot end this review without commenting on the characters. The main character, Anequs, was headstrong and had a solid understanding of her identity. She was unwavering in her beliefs, and I liked that she didn’t bow to the pressure of the colonizers. However, it also left her as a bit of a one note character because not much about her or her reactions really changed over the course of the book. She felt like more of a steady change agent that altered the people and institutions around her, which was interesting but kept me from building a strong emotional connection to her. I loved her friends, though. They each had compelling character arcs, and I loved the little found family unit of outcasts they created at the school.
Overall, this was a really interesting read with so many great elements. They just didn’t all come together in a completely satisfying way for me. If you enjoy stories with indigenous influences or centered around critiquing the status quo and colonialism, you will most likely enjoy this book. Just don’t go into it thinking it will be an action-packed tale with tons of dragon action. That is not this book’s vibe. I thought this one was okay but not a page-turner. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.