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Review: I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons – Peter S. Beagle

I'm Afraid You've Got Dragons - Peter S. Beagle

Genre: Fantasy

Reviewer: Sally

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About The Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Unicorn comes a new novel with equal amounts of power and whimsy in which a loveable cast of characters trapped within their roles of dragon hunter, princess, and more must come together to take their fates into their own hands.

Dragons are common in the backwater kingdom of Bellemontagne, coming in sizes from mouse-like vermin all the way up to castle-smashing monsters. Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus Thrax (who would much rather people call him Robert) has recently inherited his deceased dad’s job as a dragon catcher/exterminator, a career he detests with all his heart in part because he likes dragons, feeling a kinship with them, but mainly because his dream has always been the impossible one of transcending his humble origin to someday become a prince’s valet. Needless to say, fate has something rather different in mind…

The Review

A new book by Peter Beagle is always something to look forward to, and this one’s no exception.

It is, like his other works, beautiful and savage, uproarious and heartbreaking. There are the lovely turns of phrase we’ve come to expect — those combinations of words you’ve somehow never read before that nevertheless are absolutely perfect at describing something that’s just happened in the book, or that you never realized you needed to know how to express a feeling you’ve had, or just make you laugh like a hyena. “The Feast of St. Amalberga — not Saint Amalberga of Munsterblitzen, he hastened to add, but Amalberga of Maubeuge, the one not generally pictured standing on top of King Charles Martel.”

It starts as your basic fairy tale (but funnier), with the breathtakingly beautiful Princess Cerise of Bellemontagne being courted by a lot of handsome, rich princes. Sadly, the small castle’s dirty and, worse, is positively infested with hundreds of dragons of small size. This simply Won’t Do — particularly when the painfully gorgeous Crown Prince Reginald of neighboring country Corvinia shows up to make her swoon. She wails at her parents that something must be done before the official court presentation of the prince the next afternoon: the vermin must be exterminated NOW! Queen Helene (seemingly meek but the brains and power of the place) sends off a party with King Antoine (the picture of grave regality, though really a keen gardener) to a nearby village to acquire the services of their late dragon-exterminator’s son, doughty peasant Robert and his BFF/assistant Ostvald, who — with no little pressure from Robert’s overly dramatic mother are soon off to the castle to do the job.

But we’ve already seen Robert before this, and we know that despite his expertise, Robert LOVES dragons. He’s got pet dragons at home which he and his siblings keep hidden. The beasties love him too, because he deeply understands them. He and Ostvald arrive at the castle and do the job straight through the night and morning; only Ostvald knows how much it hurts Robert to kill so many of them, then haul them off to sell at Dragon Market. This is a thoroughly wondrous place, a combination of every medieval fantasy market you’ve ever read about with the usual hucksters and con men, focused on the trade in meat/skins/bones/organs/gewgaws of endless species — the names and descriptions alone are worth the price of admission, like Serpens domus borenza. The court presentation goes well, everyone except the other princes think Cerise and Reginald are the perfect couple, and the true power behind Reginald’s throne, his valet and father’s advisor — a man who ought to be running England for the Virgin Queen — thinks it’s all going great.

Except Reginald’s kingly father is a bastard of a warlord who’s charged the valet Mortmain with toughening up the prince. So Mortmain decides there’s nothing to do but turn Reginald into a bona fide hero by having him chase down and kill a proper fire-breathing, meat-eating dragon, in the usual way. And of course they need Robert the dragon expert along, and Cerise — who’s a smart, level-headed girl when not looking directly at Reginald — must go with him to support him and organize the party, which includes not just soldiers but servants, musicians, and even the spare princes who’ve been watching Reginald and figure he’s a useless fop (he does tend to speak like Bertie Wooster) and one of them could be heroic instead. So off the party goes to the mountains to find a mid-sized dragon.

The editor’s note says “I don’t pitch this as The Princess Bride but with dragons for nothin’!” Which is largely true for the first one hundred pages or so, until it is very much… not. No spoilers, but…

There’s pain and despair to come, from horrific doings, and there are many large proper dragons, evil magicks, and lots of scary fight scenes… But there’s also courage, and love (romantic and fraternal), deep trust in your friends, and things that are terrifying yet exhilarating. Robert, Cerise, and Reginald will never be the same people they started as — but they’re exactly the right people they need to be for their adult lives.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you won’t have wasted your time and money.

The Reviewer

Sally is a YA sci-fi author and lover of all things dragon.

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