Book Review: Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place, by James Russell

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

dragon_defenders_3.jpgThis was the first of the Dragon Defenders titles that I have read. It was perhaps not the best place to start, as I feel I have missed quite a bit of excitement, and some of the backstory, but I did feel that there were enough references to give me the gist of what had happened, although it would have been nice to get to know the boys, Flynn and Paddy, a bit better.

I did enjoy getting to know our third protagonist Briar whom, with her love of animals and kind, considerate nature, I felt an immediate connection with. Unluckily for poor Briar, The Pitbull, the wicked villain introduced in the first two novels, is her uncle. This story begins soon after the events in The Pitbull’s Return – with Briar’s compassionate betrayal of her Uncle’s dastardly schemes exposed. She is thrown into captivity, but she is not alone. No, The Pitbull has another plan to capture the dragons, and to enact it, he must lure the brothers away from the island, into his clutches.

Having previously foiled The Pitbull’s plans, Flynn and Paddy have returned to their relatively carefree life on the island – they race their dragon friends, help their parents, and plan for the arrival of their grandparents. But their grandparents never show; they’ve fallen into The Pitbull’s hands, and now it is up to Flynn and Paddy to rescue them. Their journey begins with a harrowing journey across a raging ocean, delivering them into a place bigger, dirtier, and stranger than they have ever imagined: the city. Here danger awaits them at every turn, and The Pitbull’s grip tightens around them. Can they escape? Or will they lose their freedom – and their dragons – forever?

The brothers’ simplistic way of life contrasts sharply with The Pitbull’s technological one. There was action and adventure a-plenty, with far more guns that I was expecting – but, unfortunately, fewer dragons. I enjoyed getting to know Briar, for not only is she compassionate, but she is also very resourceful, and not one to take being imprisoned in a tower lightly! The two boys were reckless and adventurous, throwing themselves willingly against any challenge. Their plot moved at a helter-skelter pace, giving me barely enough time to breath. The dragons did make an appearance: at both the beginning and the end, and were impressively awe-inspiring creatures.

The AR features are a novel addition;  it was fun to download the app and have a play. The addition of an AR element is something we are likely to see feature more-and-more in books, and it is nice to see it in physical books as well as in ebooks. There’s nothing like seeing a boat hovering over a page to help bring the story to life!

Overall,  lots of action and nail-biting excitement, which should be devoured by the intended audience (children 7+). I also imagine it would appeal to fans of the 39 Clues series. Despite the length of the book: 222 pages, the large print and the fast-paced plot should make it a quick and easy read, that will leave the reader hungry for more. I know that I am curious to see where the Dragon Defenders go next!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place
by James Russell
Published by Dragon Brothers Books
ISBN 9780473435301

James Russell will be appearing at Nelson Writers Festival on Saturday 20 October at 11am.

Book Review: The Dragon Hunters, by James Russell, illustrated by Link Choi

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dragon_huntersWhat would you do if a dragon snatched up your beloved chocolate-coloured Lab? Mum is not much help saying “Please stop telling tales.” Brothers Paddy and Flynn have no other option but to rescue Coco the dog themselves. They pack their bags and make some sandwiches (not as good as the ones mum makes though) ready for their quest. Off they set across their island home, scaling the mountain and looking for the Dragon’s lair.

Once they find it, Paddy keeps watch outside while Flynn creeps in and finds Coco next to the sleeping dragon. All is going well until Coco’s excited barking wakes the dragon and the boys have to run for their lives. And, just as it seems the dragon is about to get them: “Paddy felt its fiery breath warming up his bottom…” they are saved by Paddy’s clever thinking.

This is an adventure story that kids will love. It is written in an easy to read rhyme that works well, with a good pace and the action steadily building up over the course of the story. There are moments of humour and the fact that Mum doesn’t believe the boys have bested a dragon, telling them “That’s nice my darlings, now off to bed” gives the readers a sense of closeness to the brothers: even if mum doesn’t believe, the reader is in on the secret, making them part of the team.

Link Choi’s solid, earthy toned illustrations fit well with the story and earned him a finalist placing for the Russell Clark Medal for Illustration. His dragon is wonderful, and Coco the lab is very cute too I might add.

Russell and Choi have created a wonderful book, ensuring all elements: text, illustration and design, are of a professional quality, and they have gone a step further in producing an AR (Augmented Reality) reading app which brings the Dragon Brothers world into 3D life. This is so easy to use and adds another exciting element to the appeal of the book. The gorgeous end papers feature a map of the Dragon Brothers World, which when using the AR app, appears in 3D complete with sounds and even a dragon or two flying in and out and the boys themselves; very clever and very cool!

The Dragon Hunters is a fun to read, good old adventure tale that is easy to read again and again. It is the first story in a trilogy featuring the brothers, and with the other two titles continuing their dragon adventures – The Dragon Tamers and The Dragon Riders, this set will be a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Dragon Hunters
by James Russell, illustrated by Link Choi
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc
ISBN 9781492649854

Book Review: The Dragon Riders, by James Russell, Illustrated by Link Choi

cv_the_dragon_ridersAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

James Russell’s day job is as the editor of the New Zealand Herald’s Element – a sustainable business and lifestyle magazine. His two young boys’ insatiable demand for stories is the inspiration behind The Dragon Brothers Trilogy – The Dragon Hunters, The Dragon Tamers and this one, The Dragon Riders.

Link Choi is an Auckland-based illustrator and artist. He has illustrated two other books Unsuitable Weather and Gold in the Hills. He has been working more recently at Weta Studios in Wellington, helping bring to life The Hobbit.

This story begins with two boys Flynn and Paddy outside their home, completely unaware that dragons roamed their land, in startling quantity. That was until they got one for a pet. The trouble was, they didn’t know quite what to feed their pet. They gave their dragon the name of Elton John. He was kept in secret places until their mum had gone. It became much harder when the dragon grew and of course he’d almost reached the size of your average, clopping horse. He took off with them on board one day when they were playing. You can follow their journey by tracing their steps with the map on the inside cover of this book.

Having not read the previous two books in this series, I did wonder how this story would work on its own. Why I ever worried about that, I have no idea as the four-year-old I was reading this to fell in love with the idea of having a dragon for a pet. I got the distinct impression that if one was available at the local pet shop, she’d convince her mum to get her one immediately.

New Zealand’s native flora and fauna make a strong theme throughout The Dragon Riders, such as the flowering Pohutakawa and the native Karearea (Falcon), while the long-gone Pink and White Terraces also feature.

The illustrations are quite stunning, complimenting the wonderful story and being able to read this book to a child that got right into the story asking so many questions, it was a joy to read out loud.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Dragon Riders
by James Russell, illustrated by Link Choi
Published by Dragon Brothers Books Ltd
ISBN: 9780473301019