Dragon Defender by J.A. Blackburn

Dragon Defender by J.A. Blackburn
Publisher: Pip & Grey
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (236 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Peter Clark can build a robot from scratch and pick a lock in two minutes or less. But he can’t figure out why his mother left or why his grandma refuses to talk about her. When Uncle Dominick shows up on Peter’s twelfth birthday with a letter that hints at answers and an incredible story about dragons, Peter follows him, determined to find out the truth about his mother’s disappearance.

What he finds is a reality far different from what he ever could have imagined – where dragons live in hiding, hunted by poachers for their magical parts, and a small group of men and women work tirelessly to protect them. These are the Dragon Defenders. Peter’s uncle is one. So was his mother. Now it’s Peter’s turn.

Few people know that dragons exist. Even fewer know how to find them or what to do to save this threatened species from extinction. Luckily Peter is about to join at least one of these groups.

The non-stop action makes Dragon Defender hard to put down because Peter lives a completely ordinary life before his uncle’s unexpected visit. I liked the fact that Peter was written to sound like the opposite of what most of us would expect in a hero. He’s shy, nerdy, unathletic, and seems to be a little awkward around his peers. What made me appreciate this description of him even more is that these things aren’t automatically portrayed as negative personality traits in this universe. One doesn’t have to be strong or outgoing in order to make a difference.

Some of the secondary characters speak a mixture of English and Spanish, and the latter is not always translated for the reader. Most of the time it is easy to for people who don’t speak Spanish to pick up on what is happening thanks to context clues and the use of very common terms, but since this novel was written for elementary students it would have been nice to have a glossary of the less well known Spanish words at the end of the final chapter. While I always knew what the characters were saying, people who haven’t grown up around this language may have difficulty picking up on certain nuances in the plot because not everything is translated.

Most of the illustrations that begin each chapter are simple sketches of ordinary objects or places. It was fun to see what certain objects look like, though, and I had a good time attempting to guess how they would affect upcoming scenes when they reference things that have yet to occur. Including one sketch per chapter makes perfect sense, although this reader certainly wouldn’t complain if there are more of them in the sequel!

The main characters gradually reveal their personalities as they work to protect their dragons, but I would be quite interested in learning more about Peter’s flaws in the future. His courage and ability to think on his feet have a chance to shine more than once during the course of his journey, but I quite never figured out what his weaknesses were. It would be really nice to see him become a more well rounded protagonist as he grows up.

Peter is 12 when his adventure takes places, but it is clearly written for an audience a few years younger than that. I chose the 10+ age group due to chase sequences and mild violence that may be too intense for younger readers. While the first half is perfectly appropriate for 8 and 9 year olds, I’m hesitant to offer a blanket recommendation for these ages due to certain events in later chapters. This is something that should definitely be decided on a case-by case-basis, but I would not recommend this tale to anyone under the age of 8.

This is the kind of book that is great for reluctant readers, though, due to the fast-paced, exciting, and plot-centered story. The descriptions and vocabulary terms are ideal for students who prefer not to be bogged down by extraneous details, and while I certainly hope that the sequel will provide more information about how the Dragon Defense League operates the author’s conservative approach to background information works well for this particular tale.

Dragon Defender is a solid young adult adventure that I would recommend to anyone who loves dragons or fantasy tales set on modern-day Earth.

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