No Such Thing as Dragons, written and illustrated by Philip Reeve, 186 pp, RL 4

NO SUCH THING AS DRAGONS is now in paper back!!

Author (and illustrator!) Philip Reeve wrote No Such Thing as Dragons as an enforced break from writing the spectacular Fever Crumb, which was giving him trouble. On his blog in a post titled, The Old, Old, Story he shares that his main character, Ansel, was intentionally mute "since Fever Crumb getting clogged by long speeches." He tried to draw on "an echo of the first story ever told . . . the story of a small community being threatened, stalked and picked off one by one by a malevolent outside force; and the hero who eventually arises to save them." From this idea arose the story of a medieval dragon hunter who is not your typical St George and a quest that does not follow a traditional path, making it all the more suspenseful and breathtaking.
Young Ansel, the hero of our story (or is he?), suffered two losses at the age of seven. His mother died and shortly thereafter his voice left him. A few years later his unforgiving father hires him out (or sells him off?) to Johannes Von Brock, a traveler with a journey to make into the north. Brock is all too happy to have a mute because Ansel quickly learns that he isn't who he seems to be. Brock, who has been halfway across the world and seen "eagles and tigers and whale-fish and Saracens, but I've never seen a dragon yet, nor heard of one that was anything more than a story." Content to capitalize on the fears of less worldly villagers who are won over by the armor, scars, sword and the tiger teeth and "corkindrille" skulls that Brock displays as proof of his success, he travels the country "ridding" villages of their demons. Brock is destined for the village of Knochen, set in the hollow of the Drachenberg mountains,where he hopes to earn a tidy sum for his services. Ansel accepts this aspect of his master's endeavors as well as his belief that there is no such thing as dragons. However, like Brock who is not what he seems, the desperate villagers of Knochen are not quite what they seem either. After conferring with the landgrave, Brock and Ansel head to the village to prepare for their quest and hear stories from witnessed and victims of the dragon's terrible existence. In Knochen they encounter Father Flegel, a character who is also content to capitalize on the fears of those less worldly than himself. It seems that Flegel was a monk until "they expelled him for his heretical views and filthy habits. Now he shambles from place to place as he pleases, selling indulgences and fraudulent relics." Brock knows Flegel's secrets just as Flegel knows Brock's. Sure that he will betray him intentionally or otherwise, Brock enlists the fat friar to accompany him on their journey. The group sets off with Ansel in possession of a disturbing piece of information too difficult to share through his personal sign language.

When the trio make it to their first stop up the mountain they find Else, a young girl who has been forcibly left as a sacrifice by the villagers. Sheltering with her, they also find that there is such thing as dragons, or dragon. There is one disturbing scene where the dragon captures and eats, with a bit of description, Brock's horse.  From there, the action escalates and is very visual and exciting, and less gory, ending with a magnificent chase scene through a cathedral under construction in the town of Knochen. Reeve's writing is rich and beautiful when he is describing the landscape of his tale, as when Ansel wakes before dawn and looks down on the whence he came from. The "valley lay far below him. It was still night down there. Day began a few feet below his perch, above the shadow of that eastern spur, which stretched along the crags like a tidemark." Reeve makes this story interesting by making the motives of his characters questionable. Brock may be a charlatan who will risk the lives of children to capitalize on the fruits of his mission, but Ansel seems ultimately deficient in the instincts needed to survive his job. More observant than the others, perhaps because of his choice not to speak, he notices that the dragon is not the work of Satan, as Flegel spouts and the villagers believe, but an animal, a creature. Upon witnessing the dragon return to its nest with treasure and do a mating dance like a he-bird, he realizes, "It is waiting for a mate. It is waiting for another dragon to come. It wants to build a nest, and raise a brood of little dragonlets. And, for a moment, he was not scared of the creature anymore. He felt sorry for it. He understood something of its dreadful loneliness." It is this aspect of Ansel's nature that brings the story to its exciting, almost cinematic conclusion.

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