Saskatoon writer Regine Haensel recently released Child of Dragons, Book Two in her fantasy series, The Leather Book Tales. This ambitious publication follows her 2014 novel Queen of Fire, which was nominated for a High Plains Book Award. In the new novel we journey with restless sixteen-year-old Rowan as she searches for two missing children, is romantically pursued by two young men, and benefits from the protection of a foreign soldier with a penchant for making cryptic statements, like “There is no end to a circle … and when you stand at the centre you can see it whole” and “The moon rises in the evening, until it does not.” There are numerous interesting characters in this hard-to-put-down tale, and the author does a splendid job of making each distinct and memorable with her keen gifts for dialogue and physical description.
The book’s opening image depicts a small caravan of horse riders, oxen and wagons crossing a “dun-coloured land” near Aquila, City of Eagles, to Vatnborg, a city on a lake. Like all good writers, Haensel quickly moves from scenery to scene, and we learn that Rowan’s saying good-bye to a father she’s reconnected with after a long separation, the leader of the caravan is a woman named Ursallia, and a good-looking fellow traveler, Jernan – “He sits well on a horse” – has caught Rowan’s eye. The story’s told from Rowan’s point of view, so when she’s thinking about her past – her mother’s death, Rowan’s imprisonment in a castle with her father and younger brother, and the dark fact that she’s killed a man – the back-story is seamlessly inserted.
This is fantasy, so dragons, castles, legends, ravens, and ancient magic – including Rowan’s bequeathed silver bracelet – are in grand supply. Late in the story we meet the soothsayer, Tristicus.
I’m impressed by how quickly I was drawn into Rowan’s adventure. Whether I was shivering with her in the desert night’s cold during the caravan, sailing toward an island (“the sail bulging with wind”) to find the two children, or drinking yet another cup of “tisane” with her, I was there. Rowan, an herbalist and healer, has several opportunities to impart the benefits of bee balm, sage, coneflower and mint, for example, and it all seems credible and consistent with the plot.
At one point the precocious heroine says “Such simple and common things we do while horrors go on in the world,” and it’s partly this deep empathy that makes her character so appealing. She also possesses a fantastic imagination, so at times even she’s not sure if what she’s “seeing” is a vision or just a young girl’s fancy. “Am I dreaming?” she asks the wise Grandmother late in the book, and the woman answers, “Does it matter?”
Fantasy elements aside, this story strikes a very human chord in its exploration of family, and particularly, parents who’ve left their children, and how this affects those children for years to come. This is a fascinating book.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM SASKBOOKS AT WWW.SKBOOKS.COM