No Such Thing As Dragons
Ansel's father has too many mouths to feed and is always on the lookout for a quick buck. So when a traveling dragon hunter --- with a giant tooth on a cord and a sizable scar to prove his heroism --- passes by looking for a young assistant who's good at keeping secrets, Ansel's father has just the solution. Ansel is mute, you see, so he won't be blabbing any secrets to anyone.
That’s a good thing, too. Because as Ansel quickly discovers, famed dragon-slayer Johannes Brock is actually an enormous fraud, preying on the fears and superstitions of rural people to gain glory, romantic attentions, and, of course, money. "There are no such things as dragons…" Brock tells his young charge, but "just because worms are only stories doesn't mean that half of mankind aren't fool enough to believe in them."
Soon enough, Brock and Ansel reach a village where the residents believe in dragons all the way; they're terrified by them, convinced that the dragon is at the root of a number of mysterious disappearances near their mountain home. The superstitious villagers are even convinced that sacrificing a maiden is the only way to placate the dreadful mountain-dwelling beast. Joined by a friar of equally questionable morals, and later by the maiden herself, Ansel and Brock climb up the mountain, hoping (at least on Brock's part) to bide their time in a cave or shack until the moment when they can come back down the mountain with a few shards of manufactured evidence of the "dragon's" demise, collect their reward, and be on their way before they can be uncloaked as frauds.
But the dragon has other plans.
Yes, that's right. Ansel and Brock soon discover --- vividly and violently --- that there are such things as dragons, and they'll have to redefine both fear and courage on their own terms, even as they learn to see the dragon for what it is: a very real, very alive, very hungry creature, one that will require Ansel to find courage --- and a voice --- for the first time.
With NO SUCH THING AS DRAGONS, Philip Reeve effectively demonstrates that fantasy literature doesn't need to be epic in scope to be wonderfully imaginative and vividly engaging. His story encompasses a single mountain-climbing expedition --- a far cry from the decades-long, border-crossing, thousand-page fantasy novels that continue to be published in the wake of the Harry Potter series. Reeve's dragon is also, although undeniably a fantasy creature, a surprisingly down-to-earth (and bloody) one, allowing the story to focus primarily on the human drama unfolding on the mountain. NO SUCH THING AS DRAGONS proves that fantasy doesn't need to be dressed up, beefed up, or bloated with world-building details to illuminate an imaginary world or to explore the human heart.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 1, 2010