cover image Dragonhaven


Robin McKinley, . . Putnam, $17.99 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-399-24675-3

Set in a world nearly identical to our own—except for the existence of Draco australiensis (gigantic, reclusive, fire-breathing dragons who raise their infants in marsupial-like pouches)—this big, ambitious novel marks a departure of sorts for Newbery Medalist McKinley, whose previous works take place either in the realm of fairy tale and legend (Spindle’s End ) or the magical land of Damar (The Hero and the Crown ). But fans will instantly recognize its protagonist, the tightly wound and solitary Jake, as classic McKinley. On his first-ever solo expedition in remotest Smokehill (the Wyoming dragon preserve and national park where he was raised), Jake stumbles across the single surviving newborn of a female dragon slaughtered by a poacher. Jake takes on the challenge of raising the orphaned creature, describing the process in minute and loving detail (“She was hopeless as a lapdog—the wrong shape, and she was too thick-bodied to curl properly—but she’d lie pretty contentedly on my bare feet, or behind my ankles—that’s when she was willing… to lie down at all. She went on wanting skin [contact], and she still spent nights lying against my stomach”). When Jake attempts to reintroduce the dragon to her own species, a brave new era of dragon-human relations begins. One quibble: because Jake tells the story as a memoir, some climactic moments tend to be relayed at arm’s length. On balance, McKinley renders her imagined universe so potently that readers will wish they could book their next vacation in Smokehill. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)