Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
After the death of the king, the royal treasure was stolen and has not been recovered. Tess lives in a small village and has troubles of her own, including an abusive stepfather and the recent death of her infant brother. When the witch hunter comes to town, Tess is accused of being a witch. Tess is able to see the future in fire sometimes and loves going into the wilds of Dragonswood even though it is forbidden. When she is tortured, she breaks and gives up the names of her best friends as also going into Dragonswood with her. Sent to trial, Tess escapes with the aid of a dragon and flees her home along with her two friends. The three of them must survive in the wilds, disguised as lepers and never revealing their identities. But when one of their husbands is tortured too , the situation changes and they must risk their own safety to save him. As the story continues, more of the magic of Dragonswood is revealed along with who took the royal treasure. This is one amazing read, filled with fey and dragons.
Carey writes with the confidence of a long-time storyteller. Here, she weaves 12th century England and its witch-hunting into a story filled with ancient magic. The setting of Wilde Island and Dragonswood is particularly effective, itself filled with creatures of magic and the dangers as well. The story’s pacing is well done too, gripping and fast-paced in the beginning, it slows a bit in the middle to allow the story to develop, and then picks up the speed again in the end as all of the pieces fit together at last.
The characterization is also particularly well done. Tess lacks self-confidence from her years of abuse and seems unlikely to become the heroine of the story. When she breaks under torture, it is written particularly well, and shows the violence of torture and the coldness and calculating nature of it as a tool. The other characters are also well-rendered, with secondary characters returning later in the story and becoming more fully developed.
This book sparkles with magic, dragons and fey, but also is striking because of its human characters living in fear and darkness. Beautiful writing and a remarkable setting lift this fantasy on dragon wings. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.