I was given a free copy of The Gift of Charms by Julia Suzuki’s publicist in exchange for an honest review. The opinions in the review are mine alone and were not in any way influenced by the author or her publicist.
Themes Explored: coming-of-age, destiny, bullying, courage, prophecy, education, dragon lore, dinosaurs, death, war, loneliness, endurance, independence, friendship, perseverance, pride
Synopsis: In a secret land, far away from the habitation of men, dwell the world’s remaining dragons. Here they try to live their daily lives without discovery, but all is not well and their talents are failing. Things change however, when from a strange egg, Yoshiko is born-a dragon with a unique destiny. Will the land have new hero? Can Yoshiko make it in time? (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: The Gift of Charms serves as a prequel to the forthcoming Land of Dragor series. Hopefully the next book will build upon the potential in the prequel. This is a fantasy adventure geared towards eight-to-ten year olds if I had to guess. As such, the prequel reads like a slightly advanced chapter book. While the narrative is interesting, there is little development or complicated plot elements. The book is only 190 pages long, so there is only so much the author can accomplish. Anyways, I thought the story was interesting and I was not bored. It is a quick read, I finished it in an hour.
The main character on The Gift of Charms is a young dragon named Yoshiko. He is different because he was born in a multi-colored egg and all the other dragons believe this to be curse. From birth Yoshiko is branded as being different and a threat to the clans. However, his parents successfully keep him from being kidnapped and raise him into adolescence. Anyways, Yoshiko then starts Fire School, the place all hatchlings go to learn dragon lore. While there he makes friends and enemies. Igorr is his arch nemesis and spends most of the story boasting about his superior flying/fire breathing prowess. Poor Yoshiko is mercilessly bullied and then one day he decides to fly off to be alone. And then his life changes forever. Along the way, he learns the importance of hard work and refusing to give up in the face of extreme obstacles.
Julia Suzuki excels at world building. Dragor is an isolated country and all the dragons are determined to keep it that way. Apparently, a long time ago, humans had enslaved the dragons. After a messy battle, the remaining dragons escaped and created their own country free from the interference of other species. I definitely liked the parts of the story that explored the landscape and culture of the dragon community. These dragons are divided into clans and there is a lot of prejudice between the factions. Suzuki has created an interesting mythology, each clan possesses their own past and unique skills, as well as an intriguing history with humans and dinosaurs. This is pretty standard fantasy fare, but I enjoyed the original twist. Hopefully the next couple of installments in the series will build upon the lore of Dragor. I especially hope that Suzuki explores the consequences of long term societal isolation.
I thought The Gift of Charms contained some good life lessons. Suzuki explores why it is important to embrace your differences, standing up for your principles, and working hard to accomplish what you really want. Also, I appreciate the anti-bullying part of the narrative. Being different is not a bad thing and it only gets in the way if you do not embrace your uniqueness. Besides, who wants to be like everyone else? Bullying is a difficult subject but I thought Suzuki handled the issue rather well in her story. However, there were several aspects I did not enjoy about the narrative. A majority of the characters are extremely underdeveloped. Igorr is a bully but we are never given a reason for this behavior. He just takes one look at Yoshiko and instantly hates him. And the story introduces characters once and then they never appear again. Yoshiko supposedly has friend yet we never see any substantial interactions. If the story had focused exclusively on developing Yoshiko and his friends, I think it would have been a significantly stronger narrative. The book ends with a lot of strings still dangling and I hope the next book expands upon these loose ends. While the book has its flaws, I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a light hearted children fantasy.
The Gift of Charms, John Blake Publishing, 2014, ISBN 9781782199243