Dragons in a Bag
Dragons in a Bag
Ma closes her eyes again, but I keep my eyes open in case whatever’s moving in the bushes is hungry and sizing me up for a snack. I want to prove to Ma that I would make a good apprentice. But I also want to her to hurry up and focus on getting us out of here because I am ready to go now.
Whatever’s lurking in the bushes behind us starts to growl. I jump up and get ready to run back to the guardhouse, but Ma doesn’t budge. Instead, she just reaches her hand inside her coat pocket and clutches the shard of crystal she put there earlier.
“Tell me what you know about Madagascar, Jax.”
As scared as I am right now, I know what Ma’s doing. She’s trying to distract me so I won’t start to panic. But it’s far too late for that! The leafy branches behind Ma start to wave and then snap as the creature prepares to spring from the shadows.
“Run, Ma! Run!” I cry as I sprint back to the guardhouse. I’m moving so fast that I slam into the door on the opposite of the round stone building. But when I turn around, Ma’s not behind me. She’s still sitting on the log with her eye’s closed!
The creature’s growl builds into a full-blown roar and then Ma’s eyes flash open. She pulls the crystal out of her pocket and holds it high above her head. Then she looks straight at me and points her cane at the guardhouse. The black door slams shut, leaving me alone in the dark.
Nine-year-old Jaxon is about to have the strangest day of his life. When his mother has to go to court to fight an eviction notice, she leaves Jax with a mysterious old woman only known as Ma. Ma’s Brooklyn apartment is dark and quiet, with many, many books, and a strange box that seems to move on its own. Ma is uninterested and actually bothered by having Jax stay with her, but, when he tries to leave, she follows him and tells him that she is actually a witch. Jax’s mother used to be Ma’s apprentice until she decided she wanted a normal life. Ma invites Jax to come with her on her errands, returning the items in the mysterious box to their proper owner. However, they must travel to another realm to do this, and they accidentally end up in prehistoric times, with dinosaurs and everything. Ma sends Jax back to Brooklyn with her bag for his own safety, and Jax discovers that they were trying to return three baby dragons. Jax must team up with his friends (and some of Ma’s as well) to rescue Ma from the dinosaurs and return the dragons before they get too big and imprint on a human. While he does this, he learns more about magic and his family than he ever thought there was to learn.
Zetta Elliott has created an exciting and fun urban fantasy in Dragons in a Bag. Infusing modern Brooklyn with magic and mystery, as well as creating another magical realm, Elliott makes the familiar unfamiliar, and she does so masterfully through the eyes of Jax. Jax’s character is dynamic and growing, with a strong backbone that serves him well in his quest to return the dragons. Readers get to see Jax, who is headstrong to begin with, grow into sides of himself he didn’t know were there, eventually standing up for himself and his wants in life. When Jax tells his mother he wants to apprentice with Ma, he stays true to himself and is able to convince her that he is ready to learn more about magic.
In addition to character writing, Elliott’s novel has a focus on blackness and African magic that is a welcome change to urban fantasy. Jax and Ma are both black, and Jax’s interest in geography, specifically Madagascar, gives the story a wider scope than Brooklyn and the magical realm. When Jax finds a book about Madagascar written by Ma’s friend, L. Roy, and learns that the mysterious package is from there, readers are given their first clue that the magic in this novel is specifically African. In making the magic and magical realms in the novel a black space, readers are able to see positivity and power in blackness.
Dragons in a Bag is a fun, easy, and exciting read, with a focus on blackness that is refreshing to see. With an ending that is both resolute and wide-open, Elliott gives readers a satisfying novel while also hinting at what is to come next. Dragons in a Bag is a novel that reads like a breath of fresh air in Brooklyn.
Deanna Feuer, an English Literature graduate from the University of the Fraser Valley, lives in Langley, British Columbia, and is currently studying Library Sciences.