Dragon’s Blood, which first came out in the 1980s, is the first book in the Pit Dragon Chronicles trilogy by Jane Yolen. Although it is the first book in a series, there are no cliffhanger endings and the book stands quite well on its own. This is tagged as a young adult book and the main story is very reminiscent of books I read as a child; however, there is a maturity in both writing and subject matter at times that makes this book seem a little more adult. I found this tale of a boy and his dragon enjoyable but not very original other than the setting; however, this book is mainly setting up the next two books, which end up moving away from the lighthearted story in the first book.
Austar IV, a desert planet, was once a penal colony that founded its economy on breeding the native dragons, training them to fight in the pits, and betting on the winner. Jakkin, a fifteen year old boy, is working to pay off his bond and become a free man at one of the dragon farms. He believes his only chance at earning enough money to pay off his debt is to use his natural talents with dragons to train one to be a great fighter. Because of this, he makes plans to steal a dragon’s egg. Taking an egg is considered acceptable since most of the dragon eggs are decoys that do not actually contain a baby dragon and therefore are not even counted before they hatch.
An unfortunate incident with a dragon forces Jakkin to miss the year’s hatching, but later Jakkin slips into the barn at night to take a look at the hatchlings and finds that an error has been made in counting the dragons belonging to one of the hens. Instead of the nine hatchlings displayed on the door, there are actually ten. Jakkin selects the one he believes to be the best, forms a telepathic bond with it, and begins training it in secret.
The writing is simple and the story very plot-oriented, being a young adult novel. However, there were a few recurring adult themes that were not explored in depth such as gambling, prostitution, and drug addiction. Austar IV is not a pleasant, idealistic world by any means.
The story is rather predictable; in fact, it reminded me a lot of the formula used for many of the horse stories I read as a kid but with dragons instead for horses. It was certainly more imaginative than the stories about horses since it was a fictional planet containing Yolen’s version of dragons, and the world was grittier than those books, but the overall story of a boy and his animal friend was very similar to stories from childhood.
This is a short book, but the pacing is done well. It is a story that is easy to begin reading and get absorbed in, and the subplots add to the story instead of taking away from it.
Dragon’s Blood can be enjoyed by anyone, young or old or in between, who is looking for a fun, uncomplicated story that may feel somewhat familiar.