Friday, March 10, 2023

City of Secrets (Battle Dragons #3)

London, Alex. City of Secrets (Battle Dragons #3)
March 7th 2023 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The city of Drakopolis was the setting for City of Thieves and City of Speed, and Abel and his friends got into a lot of trouble with battling dragons. His sister, Lina, stole dragons for one of the kinds. While his brother, Silas, tried to uphold the law, it's not enough to keep the family to be exiled to Glassblower Gulch, a remote town that supplies the city with sand and glass. The cover story is that Silas has been made a deputy sheriff there, and even though it's not as exciting as the city, there are some advantages, like a larger apartment, and a school for Abel. Abel meets Kayda, whose moms run an artisanal art glass production facility, and who also is harboring a baby dragon! Abel gets a good look at the seedy "law enforcement" underbelly of the town when his brother visits with Deputy Manchi. He terrorizes the women, breaks their inventory, and accuses them of violating water restrictions when he is the one who turns on the water. Silas is appalled, and Abel and Kayda are able to get the dragonet, whom Kayda has named Omelette (or Omi) to safety. As fast as dragons grow, it's hard to keep Omi in the apartment, and Abel has to train her with Lina's help. The evil sheriff of the town, Skint, is not the kind of helpful and upright officer that Silas tries to be, and even runs a dragon rodeo outside town where she sends people, like Kayda's family, who cross her. During one of these rodeos, Silas is injured and carried off by a dragon! Abel and his family are devastated, and he must work with Lina to get Omi trained to deliver a message to his friends back in Drakopolis so that they can rescue Silas, overturn Skint, and ensure the safety of the dragons. There are some surprising turns, and it seems like we are not at the end of Abel's story!
Strengths: London, who also wrote the Dog Tags books, has a good feel for how to start books with a bang and fill them with exciting scenes ala John Wilson's 2004 Eviscerating Noddy essay, which still holds true. The thing that teachers and librarians will like (when dragons are not snatching people into the sky or being ridden around at high speeds) is that Abel and Silas are trying to work for justice for the people of Glassblower Gulch. Manchi and Skint are clearly bad guys, and even though Abel and Silas have had a fraught relationship because of Abel's propensity for the more illegal end of upholding justice, Abel appreciates it when Silas realizes that it's not enough to be an officer of the law if members of his own team are being unjust. Glassblower Gulch is a really interesting, Wild West setting, and it's fascinating to see what the world looks like outside the tech supported dystopia that is Drakopolis. We do see a return of Arvin, Roa, and even Jazinda, even though phones don't work out in Glassblower Gulch, so Abel spent a lot of time having to work with Lina. I'm ready for another exciting tale to find out the fate of Glassblower Gulch and to see if Abel can rejoin his friends in the city. 

London even has a great continuation of Wilson's premise on excitement right in the E ARC! "Maybe that's why Omi liked these high-stakes games so much. They were dangerous, but they made your mind and body feel totally focused on the moment. There was no worrying about homework or that weird zit or whether or not your crush felt the same way or what happens after a dragon bites you in half. There was not worrying about anything at all." (Page 246 of the E ARC, so subject to change.)

Weaknesses: We don't see enough of Kayda, although it makes sense as to why this is. It also seemed a bit odd that we hear so much about Abel's ADHD, and that he thought about simile vs. metaphor in the middle of dragon fights. Young readers will just skim over this, but I feel like there was an inside joke with language arts teachers that I didn't quite understand. 

What I really think: I have one eighth grade student who read nothing but Big Nate books for two years, and since reading the first Battle Dragons has gone on to read a wide range of dystopian and adventure novels! He got the first two for Christmas and preordered the third; most of my students do not buy books, so this is  noteworthy! I thought that Battle Dragons was an exciting futuristic book, but it will forever have a place in my heart because of its effect on this student. Include this in your display of pulse pounding dragon adventure stories like Halbrook's Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, the Tsang's Dragon Mountain series, King's Dragons vs. Drones, and Savage's Mysteries of Cove books. 

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