Dragon Cauldron (Dragon Quartet #3) by Laurence Yep.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, originally published 1991, my edition 1994.
MG fantasy, 312 pages.
Lexile: 770L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 10.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes.
The quest to restore the dragon homeland continues with new enemies and allies. At this stage the cauldron must be mended, and only the Snail Woman and Smith can do so, but reaching them is tricky. The humans at war with the main dragon kingdom make no distinction between Shimmer’s enslaved clan and her wicked uncle’s rule; they just want to kill or imprison all dragons. Meanwhile, the Monkey King’s penchant for boasting, Indigo and Thorn’s competition, Shimmer’s prickly attitude, and Civet’s lust for magic also brew up trouble for our adventurers.
After a strong first volume, and a fine second volume, the story is starting to coalesce in this third volume. The Monkey King is the viewpoint character for this book, and I found the switch a bit abrupt, although it makes sense since the reader needs to know and witness certain things that he sees differently than the rest of the group.
Indigo was less irritating to me now, but I correspondingly found Shimmer far less compelling. Her tenderness towards Indigo and toughness for Thorn constantly ruined the group dynamics. Luckily with Monkey the main character for this volume, there wasn’t a shortage of banter. Thorn continues to be overly perfect and syrupy sweet, but for all my talk about the transparency of MG fantasy in the last review, Yep took the character to places I didn’t expect. Chapter 25 was very surprising, and despite the hints that I can see in retrospective, it was nice to find some surprises in a MG story.
The further development of Civet’s character is also very intriguing. Although she is not written to be anyone’s darling, her choices and personality seem to me just as real as the original main characters. I’m glad she joined our heroes and is working to right her wrongs.
Of course, with Civet supporting Shimmer’s quest now, a new evil is needed, and Yep supplies one so horrific he cannot even be named. To young fantasy lovers today, this concept most likely brings the infamous Potter villain to mind, but as we saw in the second Earthsea book and now here in this early 1990s book, the concept predated Rowling.
The creepy new villain and other aspects bump the age range on this volume. While I would have been comfortable reading the first book aloud to my family with few edits, this installment is more firmly MG (and could even appeal to some YA fantasy fans too). Content warnings in the rest of this paragraph could be spoilers. Death, possession, mention of torture, separation, starvation, the loss of one’s soul, tomb unbroken, betrayal, fireworks, fire, prophetic visions, and more.
As I near the end of this quartet, I’ve been thinking a lot about comparable series. The closest I could think of is Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Both are a children’s literature version of high fantasy with quirky characters, a multi-part quest, protagonists who seem ordinary but turn out to be very special, witty banter, and some flaws. One big difference is that Alexander’s books are still in print, were made into a movie, and can easily be found in libraries today. I would have to reread the Prydain books to make a more thorough comparison, but it’s hard not to think that bias played a role in the different fates of these two series.
My enjoyment of this quartet might be suffering from my burnout on MG fantasy. We have the fourth book, but I’m going to take a little break and read some other types of stories instead for a while. (This may or may not show up on the blog as I typically schedule posts well in advance.) I’m hoping for a strong conclusion, and don’t want my feelings about this genre as a whole to keep unfairly impacting my individual reviews. However, still recommended.