This week my choice is a children’s story which I would only recommend to adults. `The Bone Dragon’ by Alexia Casale came out in 2013 and is available in paperback or as an ebook. Casale has lived and worked in both Britain and America but this novel is set in England.  Be warned that the author herself describes it as a `wicked little book. `The Bone Dragon’ was published as Fantasy fiction for older children but it could equally have been marketed as a psychological thriller for adults. It all depends on how you interpret what you are reading…

Fourteen year-old Evie tells her own story, beginning with an operation to repair an old injury to her rib-cage. Evie lives in the Fens near Cambridge with her adoptive parents, Amy and Paul. When she is presented with a piece of her own rib after the operation, her Uncle Ben suggests that they carve it into `something pretty amazing’. Evie chooses a dragon. When it is done, Evie passionately wishes that the Bone Dragon would come to life. Her wish seems to be granted.  When they are alone together, the Dragon speaks to her. He promises her that `When you are strong, we can do anything you wish’ and encourages her to creep out of the house each night to explore the surrounding countryside.

Evie gradually reveals that her natural parents are dead and that she suffered terrible abuse in the house of her grandparents. She is very unwilling to talk about what happened, even to the sympathetic teacher  who is helping her to catch up with her school-work. Amy makes a loving mother to Evie, but she, her husband Paul and her brother Ben are all still suffering from the aftermath of a dreadful family tragedy. They are also frustrated that the law has done nothing to punish Evie’s abusers. So, when Evie learns that Paul and Ben are going on mysterious late night missions, she wonders if they are planning to take the law into their own hands. Evie grows stronger and copes with being bullied at school but the Dragon still tells her that she must wait for the special `night of our dark moon’ before she can make her secret dream come true…

`The Bone Dragon’ is a deceptively clever novel. This review will have to be shorter than usual because I’m anxious not to give too much away.  Casale weaves several storylines that are common in children’s literature into her plot but does something dark and different with them. In Fantasy novels, sad or lonely children often wish for a magical companion who will take them on adventures (see my December 2013 post  on `The Cuckoo Clock’). At first, the Bone Dragon seems a typical example as he shows Evie `the beauty and wild magic in the  night’. The way that Evie learns to use all of  her senses to appreciate the unique landscape of the Fens is beautifully described, which distracts you from thinking about what other purpose these nocturnal rambles might have. Like many mentors in Fantasy, the Dragon is fond of making cryptic pronouncements. As Evie says `the whole `riddle me this’ thing is very annoying sometimes’ but there turns out to be a very good reason for it.

If, like me, you loved Mark Haddon’s `The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ you will probably enjoy this book. Both novels have young outsider narrators who look at life in a very unusual way.  Parts of  `The Bone Dragon’ read almost like a standard mid-Atlantic school story, as Evie worries about fitting in, tries to share the interests of her two best friends, and has a misunderstanding with a boy who fancies her. Almost, but not quite because the reader gets to share the intensity of Evie’s feelings and her desperate need to protect herself. What might normally develop into a romantic subplot spills over into unexpected violence. Casale keeps the reader guessing about whether this is going to be a novel about revenge or forgiveness.

As if she was the heroine of a Victorian novel, Evie helps to sort out the emotional problems of the adults who have taken her to their hearts, but this only makes Evie more aware of the difference between herself and them. She feels like `one of those changeling creatures from a fairy tale’ because she lives in a world where some people are wicked and terrible things happen. She can’t unknow this, but can she learn to live with her knowledge of evil? `The Bone Dragon’ has the scariest happy ending since the original Grimm (in every sense) version of `Snow White’. Whether it is Fantasy fiction or a novel about living out your fantasy is up to each individual reader to decide. Either way, Evie’s story is a mesmerising read. Until next time…

Geraldine

http://www.chalcedon.demon.co.uk

 

Advertisements