CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 8. . . .October 23, 2009
These words in the excerpt are those of Torrie, a mythical beast-like creature of indeterminate age, an ancient being who has already lived a very long time. Johansen’s story, Torrie and the Dragonslayers is a fast moving fantasy adventure story that the author wrote before her other published books in her series of fantasy adventures featuring Torrie. After their success, this book was published.
The fact that the story of these two young dragonslayers is also a legend is reinforced through the strategy of having their legend mentioned in a prior novel, Torrie and the Pirate Queen, when they are referred to with the following statement: “It happened long ago in the days of Queen Dendroica the First of Erythroth, granddaughter of my friends, the great dragon-killers Rufik and Cossphya.” So, it is very natural to have a narrator assume the role of story teller which is what Torrie does just as one would expect a bard or minstrel to tell a tale in a great hall to children who live in a castle themselves.
The main story, however, focuses on two young people who encounter each other in a dilapidated castle in Mistglom. Mistglom is the seat of a very skilled wizard, Cossphya’s father, who has become mad with grief over his wife’s death by misadventure, a spell that went wrong and killed her. With his tremendous magical power, he has turned many of his castle’s guard into wolves, and their horses resemble black beetles. Cossphya, his daughter, has taken on the role of caring for the people in the castle, including hunting, making cheese and trading with neighbours for the flour to make bread. One day, Rufik, the Crown Prince of Erythoth, was captured as he was crossing the Duke’s land and put into the dungeon. Torrie investigates the new prisoner and persuades Cosspyha to help him escape as she is determined to go after the dragon as an adventure and Torrie is concerned for her safety. Cossphya, a brave young lady, frees Rufik with Torrie’s help, and they set out together to find the magic sword Wormbane, which they must do before they can attempt to kill a huge evil dragon that is killing crops, animals and people. No one has been able to stop it.
During their quest for the sword and during their attack on the dragon, they found they needed to work together. In one instance, Cossphya is bewitched, and both Torrie and Rufik had to watch her for danger and save her from a malicious enchantment. Readers will find that adults do not play any significant roles in the story, and, when they do, their roles are sinister or ineffectual. Torrie, an ancient being, is the only wise one in the story that the young people can count on in the battle against the evil dragon.
Modern ideals, characters and language make Torrie and the Dragonslayers comprehensible to today’s reader. Cossphya, in particular, is portrayed as a young knight would be, in spite of being just a girl. She has career aspirations, namely to be a good wizard, and, just as Rufik does, she fights the dragon, taking chances with her life. Although this is an adventure story with lots of action, the unhappy nuances of Cossphya‘s family history and her inadequacy as a wizard often permeate the tone of the story and detract from the escapist charm of an adventure. All the hallmarks of good writing for children are present. There is consistency in the plot, characters and setting in this story of a quest to kill a dragon, and, just like any respectable epic tale, it has a traditional beginning and a happy ending. Unfortunately, it seems to lack the vivacious tone and sharp sparkling language of other books in this series. Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to readers both new and familiar with fantasy and adventure books..
Janet Johnson is a librarian who also teaches Children’s and Young Adult Literature for the Library Technician’s program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.