Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Alliana, Girl of Dragons

Abe, Julie and Jiang Shan (illus.) Alliana, Girl of Dragons
August 2nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alliana once had loving parents who ran a stately inn at the edge of a magic preserve, but her mother passed away, her father remarried a widow with twins Alliana's age, Reizo and Reina, and then her father disappeared in a mountain climbing accident. Since, she has been treated poorly by the stepmother, who is interested only in the money she can extract from the inn, since her skills at running it are less than optimal. The stepmother claims that Alliana owes her money, and every transgression, from broken dishes to being late to work, catapults her deeper into debt with the bitter woman. The one bright light is Reizo and Reina's grandmother Mari, who treats Alliana with kindness. No one else does. Reizo steals from her, and Reina is always demanding something from her mother that requires work on Alliana's part. While Alliana wishes to someday attend the Royal Academy, she realizes there is little hope. There seems to be a little, when the Royal Advisor shows up at the inn, wanting all three children to appear at the Farmlands Ball, where they will be scryed to determine whether or not they can attend the school, but the stepmother forbids Alliana from going, making sure she doesn't have an appropriate dress. Alliana does have a friend, Isao, who works for a baker in the town and hopes to get a better apprentice ship elsewhere. She also meets a young witch, Nela, and some of her friends, who want to help her. Alliana also finds a young nightdragon who connects with her and communicate telepathically. She names him Kabo, and takes care of him as much as she can. When Grandmother Mari dies, the stepmother tries to take anything that belonged to her and sell it. Alliana is left with only the grandmother's sewing kit and a message that she is to take care of Mari's family. As much as she would like to run away, she stays to honor those wishes. Will Alliana ever be able to use her connections to the Royal Advisor, and harness Kabo's powers in order to be able to move on from her stepmother's evil grasp?
Strengths: Like this author's Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch, this book is set in a vaguely older, vaguely Japanese world where some people are magical and others are not. There are some delicious pastries, that thrilling possibility of magic, and best of all, a dragon. It's a spin on the Cinderella story, and readers who like horrible things to happen continually to the protagonist will love seeing Alliana put up with and then overcome her horrible stepmother. Grandmother Mari is a gentle herbalist who is so kind to Alliana, and Reizo and the stepmother are deliciously wicked. Isao and Nela are good friends, and not to spoil too much, but things turn out well at the end, and I think Alliana ends up running into Eva Evergreen at some point. 
Weaknesses: Alliana is treated so horribly that it was a bit hard to believe that she wouldn't try running away at some point. Things couldn't get much worse. Also, I was hoping for a few more details about caring for a dragon. 
What I really think: There is a wide range of flavors of dragon books. Tsangs' Dragon Realm series and  London's Battle Dragons have more action and adventure, Burgis' The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart is a fun twist on dragon lore, and Yogis and Truoung's The Awakening Storm graphic novel and Durst's fantastic Spark deal more with the day to day care and feeding of dragons. My students are HUGE fans of Sutherland's Wings of Fire series, which is more Warriors style fighting and clan wars. With it's anime/manga style page decorations, Alliana will also appeal to fans of all things Japanese. 

I was a bit taken by surprise by how many of my students were into anime and manga when we returned from remote schooling in 2020, and felt very vindicated that I had kept The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation? by Gilles Poitras (November 1st 1998 by Stone Bridge Press). Of course, just looking at the cover of this book (or at pictures of Alliana and her friends) has me humming the tune to Speed Racer, because I am that old.

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