(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Yesterday, a Dragon kidnapped me from my cage in a zoo.
Stolen from her jungle home and sold to a zookeeper, Pip knows only a world behind bars, a world in which a Pygmy warrior and her giant ape friends are a zoo attraction. She dreams of being Human. She dreams of escaping to the world outside her cage.
Then, the Dragon Zardon kidnaps her into a new life. Pip rides Dragonback across the Island-World to her new school – a school inside a volcano. A school where Humans learn to be Dragon Riders. But this is only a foretaste of her magical destiny, for the Dragon Assassins are coming. They have floated an Island across the Rift and their aim is nothing less than the massacre of all Dragons.
Now, the courage of the smallest will be tested to the utmost. For Pip is the Pygmy Dragon, and this is her tale.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
I have to say that I fell in love with Marc Secchia’s writing just a few pages into the first book of The Shapeshifter Dragons series, Aranya. So when he took me up on my open submission announcement, I was so excited to begin the spin-off series, Shapeshifter Dragon legends. In Aranya we heard passing tales of a pygmy dragon while Aranya was learning about dragon lore in general, but the story of that singular occurrence was never fully fleshed out. In The Pygmy Dragon, we get to see the Island World several decades before Aranya’s birth, when dragons roamed free and shapeshifters were respected.
Into this totally alien world to the readers of the original series is Pip, a Pygmy girl taken from her home island at a very young age to be placed in a zoo with dangerous apes that she eventually befriends. The squalid conditions, the dehumanizing behaviour of the ‘people’ that come to the zoo to see her are all horrific and Marc Secchia shows that horror without belabouring the point. We get a very, very clear picture of her suffering and desperation until a regular person begins to talk to her to learn about the Pygmy culture. He treats her like a real human being and they learn from each other until the dragon Zardon whisks Pip away to a new life as a dragon rider.
You really can’t help but cheer for Pip the whole way through. From her horrible treatment in the zoo to the bullying and tormenting she finds at the Dragon Rider Academy, you’d have to have a heart of ice not to feel for her. Despite everything, she works so hard to prove herself every bit her fellow students’ equal and in some ways, surpasses many of them. It’s there at the Academy where she discovers a secret that she never expected she had: she’s a Shapeshifter Dragon. A Pygmy Dragon to be exact. And because of her hidden power, she’s now flying around with a giant target on her back. All of the dragons are as a war begins to brew between the different factions.
As always, Marc Secchia’s world-building is second to none. The Pygmy Dragon can absolutely be read as a stand-alone novel, but for those of us that read Aranya before reading the spin-off series, it expands upon what we’ve learned. We even meet some of Aranya’s friends, the unrepentantly lecherous Nak and the love of his life, Oyda. I love how Marc Secchia finally let us see the mysterious gigantic original dragons that created all of the regular dragons. And how he gave Pip the special power that would make her a legend. I don’t want to give too much away, so I can’t gush as much as I would like, but needless to say you won’t find any better world-building out there in YA right now.
He also includes some pretty powerful themes without beating his readers over the head with a stick. The theme of freedom is so central to the whole story and it makes you really appreciate just how good you really have it. No matter how bad your life gets, you’ve never been locked up in a zoo, treated like an animal and forced to befriend animals that were once your natural enemies. There’s also a theme of redemption throughout the novel. Not everyone who appears to be evil is and sometimes truly bad people can be redeemed. The little subplot with the Silver Dragon Pip meets is just one such example of that.
Marc Secchia has a beautiful writing style. He’s able to write highly emotional scenes without getting too sappy and he can describe things beautifully without going overboard. His descriptions of the dragons and the flourishing dragon culture at the Academy made me both happy and sad because so much of that is lost by Aranya’s time. His characters are so vividly sketched out that you expect them to just come up and walk off the pages. And the amount of thought he put into dragon anatomy and the descriptions of their powers, language and emotions is just amazing.
Basically, if you’re going to read any book about dragons, read The Pygmy Dragon. I seriously can’t recommend it enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.