The Brigstowe Dragons by Eamonn Murphy (ebook review).

It is far, far harder to write a convincing novel for teenagers or Young Adults than most people expect. It is not just the language used or the age of the characters, it is the style and shape of the narrative. For both these categories, the first rule is to lose the adults. The point of view needs to be from that of the youngsters. There may be adults involved but the story is told around them rather than through their eyes. While it is possible to use several viewpoints, it is always better, especially with a novella-length piece, to keep it to one.

There is also a big difference between teen fiction and YA. Remembering that young people tend to read above their designated age, teen novels can be pure adventure with the conflict being with the adults and their peers but a YA tale needs to be packed with emotion, especially sexual tension as it is this age group and their readers that are beginning to explore the world of adults.

The problem with ‘The Brigstowe Dragons’ is that it fits into neither category. Although we are told that Kenric, the young protagonist, is a teenager and that he is over fourteen, we do not know exactly his age. The setting is an alternative Dark Age drama and it is worth remembering that boys were regarded as men at fourteen and teenagers didn’t exist. Boys would have been taught to handle bows from an age where they were strong enough to pull the string. Swordplay was usually only permitted amongst the noble classes, at this time, mostly of French origin. Where Kenric is the point of view character, there is no problem but this book also has that of at least three other adults leapfrogging the narrative into adult literature.

There is an interesting idea embedded in the book. There are dragons, though they do not feature as strongly as the title would suggest. Everyone wants big dragons. The image of the cover suggests huge but no dimensions are given of the beasts, only of the space in which they live. There are many missed opportunities to enhance the text with description. There are many writers, including the popular Naomi Novik, who love the idea of dragons but who don’t consider the biology of their imagined creatures. Unless they are magical creatures, flying is a problem. Current thinking is that dinosaurs such as T. Rex could only stomp and not run after their prey because their bones were not strong enough. The suggestion in ‘The Brigstowe Dragons’ is that these are the only ones. Thus, if they only produce one batch of eggs a century and then die, then all these dragons are siblings. Intelligent creatures have an instinct for not keeping mating in the family. Assuming the dragons are of reptile stock, even tortoises live far longer and produce many batches of offspring, though most never reach breeding age.

Stylistically, the story has a number of features that get in the way of a plot aimed at a younger audience. All beginning writers are told, ‘show, don’t tell’. While it is essential for the author to know the background of his characters it is not always necessary to tell the reader. Many of the events of the past are told as exposition rather than flashback and there is a tendency to repeat information. There is not enough differentiation in the language of the characters and the narrative tends to be on the formal side.

An issue that often arises with small independent press that doesn’t appear to have a perceptive copy editor or proof reader is that it is too easy to see on the page what you expect to see, thus errors creep in. Other than the odd punctuation problem, there are several places in which names have been changed and I wasn’t sure whether the villain, Kemshah came from Andaya or Vandaya.

Unfortunately, this novella needs to be taken apart and reassembled with the focus being mainly on Kenric and the dragons. It needs a richer and more vivid descriptions of the surroundings and above all, to be YA it needs a love interest, probably female. It is noticeable that the only female speaking part is an old woman. Above all, this needs to be far longer.

Pauline Morgan

October 2017

(pub: Alban Lake Publishing, Iowa. USA. 32 page eBook. Price: $ 1.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-37085-327-4)

check out website: http://albanlake.com/

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