Ember and the Ice Dragons
Ember and the Ice Dragons
Her three weeks aboard the Orpheus had passed slowly. She would have liked to go up to the deck on the days the demiship surfaced, but it was far too dangerous – particularly as they passed the equator and the sun grew even stronger. She was glad, at least, to be traveling aboard a demiship, one of the fastest and most advanced ships in the British navy. She had fallen asleep each night watching sharks and seals and manta rays and fish of all description drift past the window of her undersea passenger cabin. She felt certain that she had discovered at least one new species of jellyfish, and made careful sketches, in the event that she became a famous zoologist one day and wrote a book about cnidarians. She tried to bury her sadness by reading. She also memorized several new animals from Takagi’s Compendium: the cheetah, the crenellated chimera, the alpine chipmunk, and three types of chickadee (black-capped, gray-collared, and African).
Orphaned as an infant in the Welsh Gwynedd Mountains, Ember was discovered by an ambitious young Stormancer and Magician named Lionel St. George. Concealing her dragon identity with an unusual spell, Lionel raised Ember as his human child. Unable to manage her growing ability to set things on fire, including her own hair and clothing, Ember makes a difficult decision to travel to the darkness of Antarctica where she can stay with Lionel’s infamous convicted thief/scientist sister.
Upon her arrival, Ember discovers that the locals participate in an annual dragon hunt, endorsed by the Prince of Antarctica. Enraged, Ember secretly plots to sabotage the hunt. Accustomed to being alone, Ember is taken aback when a young boy, Moss, and another girl, Nisha, insist on helping her. Set against the cold and formidable backdrop of Antarctica, Ember and her new friends find themselves taking enormous risks to save the dragons and uncover another sinister plot by the Prince.
Similar to Kenneth Oppel’s “Airborn” series and Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Fawcett has created an alternate universe where the British tradition of exploration and colonization prevail and, like “His Dark Materials”, science and magic uneasily coexist. Fawcett crafts complex and strong female characters. Ember’s aunt, for example, is an accomplished scientist who initially struggles to connect with Ember, thus resisting a “mothering” role. Indeed, this aunt is a rather rebellious figure in that she makes no apologies for her past as a thief and accepts Ember’s actions without question or condemnation. Because the book is told from the point-of-view of Ember, her complexity as a sensitive, caring, and passionate character is also easily revealed to the reader. While other characters are not as well-rounded, they, too, offer glimmers of inner depth that help to bring the book to life.
Although there may be a missed opportunity for this novel to more fully address the effects of a world that is so clearly British-centric in terms of race and class, Ember and the Ice Dragons contains a number of important threads relating to parental love and support, the far-reaching consequences of greed, the struggles of being different, the importance of standing up for what is right, and the bonds forged from friendship. In this tale, dragons represent an alternative way of being when they refuse to kill and attempt to gently educate their “enemy” rather than resort to violence. Despite their formidable appearance, Fawcett’s dragons (who are unable to lie), offer readers an antidote to the villainy of the hunters. Fawcett skilfully creates both a world and characters that are relatable and entertaining. This plot-driven tale is a highly enjoyable read and serves as a solid example of how it is possible to bring a critique to some aspects of human behaviour while offering a beacon of hope in how such behaviour can be reconfigured to be something more just and humane.
Dr. Christina Neigel is an Associate Professor of Library and Information Technology at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.