When I first met Joliet author Colleen H. Robbins about a decade ago, she was working on a young adult fantasy trilogy.
What made this trilogy a bit different from many fantasy books written for youth was the way Robbins wove the struggles of today into a book set in magical eras and places.
Robbins didn't just slap one challenge into the pages to make her stories relevant. They are relevant because the issues aren't token or contrived; they permeate the pages and kids will recognize them.
The first book is "Daraga's Quest." The second is "The Daraga's Children." It's this second book I'm currently reading.
Here is its full Amazon book description: "Family is everything, right? Then why do they have so many secrets? When sixteen year old Nicholas Nayevson discovers he can shapeshift into a dragon, he can't wait to show off to his wizard father.
"When his father doesn't return from the distant Daraga lands, a noble tries to force his sister into marriage and Nicholas' people struggle with dragon attacks. Nicholas recognizes that he must take action.
"Hoping to solve both problems and avert an all-out war with the dragons, he determines to track his father down. Travelling as a dragon is tricky, but travelling as a human has its own challenges. Worse, Nicholas has no idea where his father's mysterious Daraga people live.
"But what can Nicholas do when he discovers that the young man on the other end of his sword is his nearly identical brother--from his father's other family?"
So here are a few ways "The Daraga's Children" speaks to young adults in the 21st century.
Nicholas, for instance, misses the time he used to spend with his father Nayev, a dragon, especially since Nayev secretly taught him some wizardry. Most of the time, Nayev lives with the great golden dragons, and he's only visited Nicholas twice since Nicholas turned nine.
Many kids today live in single parent homes and find themselves missing the infrequent visits of the other parent.
Nicholas is also embarrassed at the very public and exuberant show of affection his mother Timbrel Lady Urramach, Ambassador of the Ravali elves (who looks more like a sister than a mother) shows for Nayev when he emerges from the woods every now and then.
"Why do I have the most embarrassing parents in the world?" Nicholas wonders.
He gets into a fight over her behavior and protests and grumbles like a typical brother when his sister Triana uses her healing power to stop the bleeding and realign his nose.
Triana is most like him and uses magic. His sister Raisa does not, which causes her to withdraw a bit from them. Nevertheless, Nicholas' self-esteem suffers because of their abilities.
His sisters (the trio are triplets) outperform him in many areas. Sure he can do magic, too, but only if he's turning rocks in to dust. What kid wants to be "bested" by his siblings?
The triplets are also bilingual: they can speak dragon growl. They can also read thoughts, although (except for Raisa) their abilities are limited to the thoughts of family members.
Here are some of my random thoughts so far:
The writing is tight and the pacing is brisk but not breakneck speed. The scenes do jump around a bit, from present time to flashbacks, but subheads alert the reader when this occurs.
Fantasy is not my typical genre (J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and L. Frank Baum are exceptions, and I must be the only person in the world who stopped reading Harry Potter after the first book).
Still, despite the fantastical elements (pointy elven ears and the like), kids will relate to the modern-sounding speech patterns, the familiar routines ("Fire practice was done for the day"), and the relationships between the main characters and their siblings, parents) and peers.
Robbins is currently writing the third book in the trilogy.
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