November 11, 2015

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

by E. K. Johnston
306 pp.
Ages 12+

Once upon a time there was a sixteen-year-old boy named Owen Thorskard, who was the son of two dragon slayers and nephew of one of the most famous dragon slayers of the late 1980s, Lottie Thorskard.  Though this is Owen's story, it could not have happened if: 1) his parents, who had experienced horrific experiences fighting dragons in the oil-rich Middle East, had not separated, his mom returning to Venezuela; 2) his aunt Lottie and her wife Hannah, a smith who forges all their swords and weaponry, hadn't offered to help raise Owen; and 3) Lottie hadn't been badly injured fighting a dragon off the Burlington Skyway, cutting short her urban career and compelling her to choose to live in the rural community of Trondheim, bringing Owen's dad Aodhan, Hannah and Owen with her.  Oh, of course, also if Owen hadn't met Siobhan McQuaid, musician and composer extraordinaire and his math tutor, and asked her to become his bard.  Without teen Siobhan to tell his story, there would never be The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.
Pg. 303 The Story of Owen Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
While Siobhan becomes acquainted with Owen and his family and is introduced to the mechanics of dragon fighting, she tells of her experiences, both honestly to the reader and in true story-teller fashion to the media, elevating the cause for the need for dragon slayers in less urban communities. (Most dragon slayers, after they complete their mandatory service for the Oil Watch, end up getting lucrative contracts with large corporations or join the Royal Canadian Mounted Dragon Slayers rather than serving small centres without big budgets.)  When Siobhan and Owen are approached by a conspiracy theorist named Archie Carmichael in adjacent Saltrock, the two start to look into the possibility of a dragon hatching ground on Manitoulin Island which would explain the increase of attacks. With the help of Archie's daughter, Emily, and Owen's family, they establish a Guard at school to train teens in dragon fighting/slaying (though dragon slayers are typically legacy positions) to assist the few dragon slayers around and to devise a plan to locate and destroy this potential source of dragons.

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim is a history of dragons and dragon slayers wrapped up in the story of a boy who would follow in his father's, mother's and aunt's footsteps and become a dragon slayer extraordinaire.  But it’s also the story of Siobhan finding her musical voice to compose a symphonic story for Owen’s actions.
This was it, I realized.  This was what I had to make other people feel, even if they didn’t get to see it like I had.  I could already hear the first whispers, the line of brass and the faltering drums of the dragon’s dying hearts. This was something I could do. (pg. 144)
Through Siobhan’s eyes and ultimately through her music–I wonder if E. K. Johnston has any plans for sharing the music composed to accompany Owen’s story–readers will be taken into an alternate history and a world in which dragons must be slain and carbon, fire and smoke draw the creatures to attack.   There is so much in The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim that it defies my inclusion of all in this simple review.  But all readers, particularly those participating in the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine reading program in which The Story of Owen is a nominee, will be grabbed by the completely unique premise for the book, E. K. Johnston’s exceptional characters, and an ending that is hardly formulaic and definitely startling.  And I’m sure that they will be as primed to read E. K. Johnston’s follow-up book, Prairie Fire, released earlier this year, as I am.

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