Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dragon Quest: The Flight of the Last Dragon by Robert Burleigh

Where have all the dragons gone, long time passing?

In the fictional universe dragons have fallen on some hard times, despite Hagrid's tender ministrations, often dispatched by heroic protagonists from their mountain keeps, their treasure troves looted to save many a mythic medieval kingdom. So if you want to find a dragon, forget rocky fastnesses and antediluvian caves. So where would a dragon-hunting child look?

Try the urban underground, a place where no one goes unless he must, and thus the last retreat of the winged lizards.

And there, there can be found... Ultimon.

Weak, alone,
He wades in the slime.

Lost in dreams
of a long-ago time.

With rust-encrusted scales, frazzled feathers, and worn talons, Ultimon is no fire-breathing fairy tale dragon. But he still has faint memories of his former power.

And then he hears a call from deep in the sky, seemingly from somewhere in space, calling him to rise and following his destiny, once again to fly among the stars.

Aha! He's up!
Then swoop, then glide.
Talons thrust out.
Wings flung wide!

The watching child runs to catch a glittering falling feather, and a late-night walker sees what looks like a shooting star against the dark sky.

But in Robert Burleigh's Flight of the Last Dragon (Philomel, 2012) this is no shakedown flight for a refurbished earthly dragon. Ultimon has a new place to fly forever in the sky, as one of the constellations. (You guessed it--Draco!)

While Burleigh's quatrains are lovely, the main attraction here are the illustrations by Mary GrandPre', the familiar artist who decorated the chapter headings and covers of the Harry Potter books. GrandPre's dragon is first bedraggled and then bedazzling, and her full-bleed pages, done in glowing greens and blues, set the pace and mood for this flight of fantasy.

"A melancholy but moving story of finding one’s way home after the world has changed," says Publishers Weekly.



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