Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review - Between a Roc and a Hard Place by Danny Birt

Short review: An orphaned dragon, a nest of Roc's, a morality play about living together and environmentalism.

A baby dragon
Raised by rocs becomes a bridge
To protect the wild

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Between a Roc and a Hard Place is a cute little book that starts off as a kind of fish out of water story and ends up delivering a message about cooperation and environmentalism. Aimed at younger readers, the book is short, and a quick read to boot, which is both a strength and weakness for the book. Because it is short and quick, a younger reader is more likely to actually finish the book, but the story the author wanted to tell seems too large for the limited space it is packed into. As a result, some of the fantastical elements aren't explained well enough and a lot of the story development is presented in a manner that feels hurried.

The opening chapter shows the desperate attempts of a female dragon to save at least some of her unhatched offspring from the predations of a group of dragon hunters intent upon slaying her and her progeny. The chapter is actually the best done part of the entire book, putting the reader in the middle of the action, giving just enough information to give a clear idea what is happening without bogging the narrative down in extraneous detail. The problem I had with the book is that this doesn't last too much further into the book, which becomes increasingly about telling the reader about what the characters have done rather than showing them in action, glossing over large chunks of character and plot development. For example, a later critical plot development - the fact that a nearby human king is gathering forces to try to kill the main character - is related to the main character as a second hand retelling of a third hand rumor.

And this is a shame, because the broad strokes of the story are fairly interesting, even if the message, which ends up with the central character taking on the role of both the bridge between two (and eventually three) opposed groups and the world's most dangerous park ranger, is somewhat simplistic. Given the age range that this book is clearly targeted to, a simplistic message is probably what is called for, but it would have been nice to have just a little nuance in the story. Since the story is told in such broad strokes, almost all of the characters remain almost entirely undeveloped. The real weakness is that the fantasy elements are dropped into the mix without a whole lot of explanation, which seems to me likely to confuse readers of the intended age group. I also noted a couple instances of language that was probably too complex for the intended age group, such as a reference to "aviafauna".

As a whole, this book is only average. While the plot of the story is interesting, and there is a potentially really good young adult fantasy here, the weak character development and the extraordinarily broad brush used to deliver the story weakens the end product. If the characters and story had been more fleshed out, this could have been a brilliant book. In the end however, while the book is a decent little tale, but doesn't rise above that.

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