Wings of Fire #1: The Dragonet Prophecy, by Tui T. Sutherland (Scholastic, July 1, 2012, ages 8 and up) , is a winner. If you have a fourth grader who's read these series--Warriors, the Guardians of Ga'hoole, and How To Train Your Dragon--and who is casting around for a new book, this is the book you should give him or her. It is a must-have for the fourth grade library (which I don't think I've ever said about a book before) and I enjoyed it rather a lot myself!
Five dragonets, each from different tribe of dragons, were taken from their homes before they even hatched, and raised in hidden cave, knowing only each other and the cold dragon guardians who watched their every move. They were raised to be the dragonets prophesied to end a terrible and bloody conflict that was tearing apart the seven tribes (Sandwings,Mudwings, Skywings, Seawings,etc.)...but the Talons of Peace, the dragons who are raising them, are afraid that they've failed to meet the terms of the prophecy. Instead of a Skywing, they ended up with a Rainwing--a tribe of dragons sneered at for being lazy and useless.
And so the guardians plan to dispose of Glory, the little Rainwing.
But the five dragonets are a team, and when they hear that Glory might be killed, they plan a daring escape. Each has their own strengths, and their own weaknesses, and none has ever been outside before. Almost immediately, they are captured by the evil Queen of the Skywings, whose greatest joy is to pit dragon against dragon in her arena of death....There the Skywing champion, barely more than a dragonet herself, defeats all comers. But the Dragonets of the Prophecy are different from other dragons--they are not bound by loyalty to their own tribes, but too each other. And that loyalty will save them....
Told from the point of view of Clay, a Mudwing, it's story of friendship, impossible expectations, and a world at war.
I sincerely enjoyed this one! I must confess I was doubtful at first, a bit condescending even, but once the dragonets had escaped from their cave, it was a page-turner! It helped that the the various dragons were sufficiently characterized to be interesting, and that the world building of all the different kinds of dragons was fascinating. It helped even more so that the fights to the death in the Skywing arena weren't sugar-coated, but deadly serious, and that the Skywings champion was a surprisingly sympathetic character. It also helped that I, in general, am a fan of plucky orphans with interesting skills raised in miserable circumstances but making good, and as these dragonets are de facto orphans, they fit the bill nicely.
But even beyond those details of story, what pleased even cynical me most was that there were themes here that I was happy to have my son think about--loyalty to friends transcending blind loyalty to tribe, the need to empathize with other points of view, the need to try your best to shape your own destiny, and not be someone's tool, and the senselessness of war.
The sensitive young reader might be troubled by some of the violence--dragons really do kill other dragons. But no beloved characters die, so it's not too upsetting. It's very much in the child mindset, though--the main character, Clay the Mudwing, really wants to find his own mama....
My son has already started passing the ARC I got around to his friends, and you can bet that when the sequel comes out next January, we'll be there at the bookstore. Its kid appeal is greatly enhanced by the guide to all the different types of dragon, with appealing illustrations and nicely organized information.
Note to the author: this is a series that absolutely cries out for a website, with all the information about the different types of dragon expanded, and legends of the different dragon tribes, and little stories about the characters when they were babies, and printable pictures of the dragons etc. I looked for such a website, but didn't find it--please let me know if I missed it!
Here's another review, at SciFi Chick.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.