Before the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we didn’t have a permanent dragon slayer. When a dragon attacked, you had to petition town hall (assuming it wasn’t on fire), and they would send to Toronto (assuming the phone lines weren’t on fire), and Queen’s Park would send out one of the government dragon slayers (assuming nothing in Toronto was on fire). By the time the dragon slayer arrived, anything not already lit on fire in the original attack would be, and whether the dragon was eventually slayed or not, we’d be struck with reconstruction. Again.
Needless to say, when it was announced that Lottie Thorskard was moving to town permanently, it was like freaking Mardi Gras (p. 1).
The Story of Owen is an absolutely brilliant YA fantasy. It was smart, original, and entertaining and leaves you looking for more from bard-in-training, Siobhan, and her dragon slayer, Owen Thorskard.
Siobhan is your average high school student. She gets good grades and is intent in her focus on music composition, determined to get into a good musical school. However, all of Siobhan’s career aspirations change when her rural town of Trondheim gets it’s very own dragon slayer.
Owen Thorskard’s very famous family has moved to Trondhiem following his aunt’s retirement. Officially, it’s Owen’s father that is the town’s dragon slayer, but really it’s a family affair. Of course, the arrival of the Thorskards in Trondheim has the small rural community in an uproar. Siobhan doesn’t expect to be involved in any of it, but all that changes when she happens to meet Owen on his first day at her high school. Suddenly Siobhan finds herself right in the middle of dragon slaying with her very own job to do. Siobhan is called to be Owen’s bard, the teller of his heroic feats. But there’s much more to it that simply telling a good yarn, Siobhan has also been recruited because of Owen’s aunt’s determination to change the world of dragon slaying. They want to return to the ways of old, move away from the commercialized and privatized career that dragon slaying has become.
Of course Siobhan’s role in changing the face of dragon slaying arrives sooner than expected when Trondhiem is plagued by an increased number of dragon attacks. Owen has to step up to the plate as a dragon slayer much sooner than expected, bringing Siobhan along on this adventure.
I was completely blown away by The Story of Owen. This was an amazing story. It was fun, unique and downright smart. The first thing that caught my attention was the world that Johnston has created. In this version of Canada dragons just are. Dragons are a part of daily life and have been forever. This has impacted industry, historical events, everything down the daily lives of those that co-exist alongside these dragons. This is why dragon slayers are needed. They protect those that cannot fight off the dragons. However, over the years the position of dragon slayer has become privatized. Dragon slayers no longer simply protect their hometown, they are required to enlist with the Oil Watch and are paid big bucks to protect what they’re told to. This means many small towns, like Trondhiem, are left unprotected by dragon attacks because they cannot afford to provide the same financial incentives as larger cities and corporations. Me thinks it’s quite significant that dragon slayers are employed by the Oil Watch. Could this perhaps be a comment on current events? Yes, I think so.
I loved how Johnston created a rich fantasy world. Current and historical events were blended together so well with the addition of dragons, it was impossible not to see the larger social commentary that was being made (i.e. privatization, commercialization). What makes this a particularly strong book is that something is being said about the world, but the book still remains a fun and fast-paced read.
In addition to the fact that The Story of Owen is more than a simple story, the style of the story and the characters that exist in it are also well crafted. The entire book is narrated by Siobhan in her role as Owen’s bard. She is recounting events after the fact but this doesn’t lessen the action that is happening. This style of narration also allows for Siobhan to unravel for the readers the world in which dragons exist. It was a different style of narration, Siobhan is “speaking” directly with readers, but it was engaging and refreshing.
The characters of Siobhan and Owen are also what makes the story. Given the title and the subject you’d assume that Owen is the hero, and to an extent he is. He’s not the expected hero. Siobhan originally describes him as a bit scrawny and he’s not particularly good at school. But I loved the fact that Owen wasn’t the expected hero, it once again highlighted the fact that The Story of Owen was something a little different. While Owen is the dragon slayer, I think you can also argue that it is Siobhan who is the real hero of The Story of Owen. It’s her story after all, she’s the storyteller, without her there would be no story. And while Siobhan is no dragon slayer, she is a dedicated friend to Owen and makes some hard choices because of that. I love that being a bard becomes Siobhan’s vocation. It’s more than a lark to her, it becomes a career choice and that dedication means Siobhan is forced to make sacrifices for it.
The Story of Owen was such a unique reading experience. It was different from all the romance-infused YA that’s out right now (not that I have a problem with those kinds of books) and I think that it will appeal to a wide audience. The fact that this is a thought-provoking read and it’s Canadian connection wins a lot of points with me. I’m left wanting more and I can’t wait to read it’s sequel, Prairie Fire.
If you liked the partnership element to The Story of Owen, Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger and Del fantasy series is a good follow up. They are adult reads, but I think they’re also suitable for older teens. While Tiger and Del don’t have the immediate supportive friendship as Owen and Siobhan, I think readers who commit to the series will be pleased by the development of Tiger and Del’s relationship (and yes, it does become romantic). Start with book one, Sword-Dancer.
If you were please by the lack of romance in The Story of Owen, I think you’ll also enjoy William Ritter’s Jackaby. Like The Story of Owen, Jackaby is narrated by a young woman, a sidekick to the heroic narrator, and like Owen, this concept of who is the hero is immediately complicated. Jackaby is a great historical mystery that I highly recommend.
And, for more dragon reads, see Stacey’s dragon post.