Saturday, 17 April 2010

CBR 45: "Dragonskin Slippers" by Jessica Day George

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: April 16th, 2010
Date finished: April 17th, 2010

Creel and her brother are orphans and living with their aunt and uncle in the provincial farming town Carlieff. Because food is scarce, her aunt decides that Creel has to be given to the local dragon, and then the nobleman's son can rescue and marry her. Creel is pretty sure the dragon is really a myth, and is therefore rather surprised to discover that not only is the dragon real, but he's none to pleased to find a human on his doorstep. He doesn't sleep on a hoard of gold either, but collects shoes. It seems all dragons like collecting different things (one collects dogs), and this one has hundreds of pairs of shoes. For a while it looks like Creel's aunt's crazy plan will succeed, but Creel has no wish for the dragon to get killed, and she certainly doesn't want to marry the local nobleman's son. She bargains with the dragon that she'll get rid of the would-be knight and the irate villagers, if he will give her one pair of his shoes. Creel chooses a pair of lovely blue leather slippers that the dragon is clearly reluctant to part with, but it agrees to give them up if she gets rid of the humans.

Creel never wanted to marry anyone, and certainly doesn't want to go back to her aunt and uncle's. She convinces the rather dim nobleman's son that the dragon was ancient, and carrying her off clearly used up its last strength, so it is now dead, and no danger to anyone. She then starts walking towards the capital, where she wants to find work as a seamstress, using the sewing and embroidery skills her mother taught her. Along the way, she is nearly attacked by ruffians, but rescued by a large gold dragon who takes her to his cave. Shardas, as the dragon is called, collects stained glass windows, and is also surprised to see Creel's slippers, but again, refrains from actually explaining to her why they are important. She stays in the dragon's cave for over a month, finishing her sample pieces and becoming close friends with the friendly beast.

Shardas takes her to the capital, where after wandering lost and alone, and nearly being arrested for stumbling over a foreign princess' lapdog, she is helped to find lodgings by the king's younger son. She is given a job as a dressmaker's apprentice, and within days her skills as an embroiderer are sought after. Amalia, the spoiled foreign princess betrothed to the older prince, sees her unusual slippers one day when she is in the shop, and demands that Creel give them up. Creel refuses, to the horror of one of the other apprentices, a crippled girl who works in the back rooms, and frequently scolds Creel and the other girls for complaining about the demanding customers, and the tyrannical Amalia in particular.

Luka, the younger prince, keeps coming round to the shop to see Creel. He, like many of the people in the city, are not happy about his brother's impending marriage, but the country needs the alliance. When Creel's slippers disappear one morning, and an ugly ballgown is left in their place, Luka tries to help her get them back from Amalia. The true nature of the slippers only becomes clear about a month after they were stolen from Creel, when her good friend Shardas and many other dragons start attacking the capital. The king reveals that the slippers were made out of dragon hide, and allows its wearer to control all the dragons in the kingdom. Amalia and her warmongering father now control the dragons, and intend to use them to conquer the kingdom by force, unless Luka, Creel and her friends find a way to stop them.

Dragonskin Slippers is a sweet, little book, and the relationship between Creel and the dragons in it reminded me of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It did not surprise me in the slightest when Jessica Day George revealed that she had always been a fan of those books and other stories featuring dragons. Creel is a resourceful girl, determined to make her own way in the world. She is terrified the first time she meets a dragon, but soon realizes that all the stories about them were greatly exaggerated, and that they are intelligent, rather shy creatures, whose reputations have been tarnished by the king who made the slippers to control them and use them as weapons. Once she realizes the terrible power of the slippers the princess stole, she tries to do all in her power to help her dragon friends and get them back. I really liked the story, and its many fairytale elements. I currently only own the second one, but plan to get the third as soon as it's out in paperback.

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