The people on the remote island of Masquapaug have lived out of the eye of the colonizers, the Anglish, for many years. That is, until fifteen-year-old Anequs is selected by a dragon hatchling, quickly gaining the ire of the Anglish authorities who have strict parameters around who and how someone might possess a dragon. Anequs and the newly-hatched Kasaqua are allowed to attend a proper Anglish dragon school, but if she cannot pass their courses and fit into Anglish society, then Kasaqua will be put to death.
Moniquill Blackgoose has created such a rich, detailed book here. It’s fun to find glimmers of real facts in her work, but she has woven so many different myths, histories, and ideas together that it feels tangibly distinct as its own world. What I enjoyed most is how much of this book is rooted in joy and community. The Anglish society is ruled by racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, but Anequs and her friends find ways to embrace who they are. The story is a celebration of the ways in which they differ from the expectations of the Anglish society and why those differences are worth preserving.
In addition, it’s refreshing to have a book about teens treat romantic relationships with such maturity and care. Without spoiling anything, Anequs’s romances include different people of different genders, but her relationships are not about a competition of who will win her affections as much as an examination of the Anglish society’s heteronormative expectations. The possible love interests are treated with serious consideration and are fairly well-developed in their own right, considering how much is packed into this story.
It’s a fantasy novel with a lot to say. That said, the book’s richness does slow things down. This is a story that’s interested in setting up systemic constructs so that they can be challenged later, and that sometimes means delving into dense histories or a highly technical magic system. These scenes feel intentional in how they parallel Anequs herself learning this curriculum with so little support from the school, but they weren’t as interesting to me as seeing Anequs interact with the world itself.
Overall, this book feels like a love letter to those looking for a magical school story that cares about representing a broader range of people. It’s a very promising start to a series and I will be checking out the next one.
Trigger warnings: racism, homophobia, violence, ableism, references to genocide