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The Coming of the Dragon

The third section of Beowulf has always been my favorite.  It is just so sad and uncertain, yet hopeful at the same time.  Like most endings are in life.  Plus there's a dragon.  There are very few stories that can't be improved by the presence of a dragon.  So when this interview with Rebecca Barnhouse showed up on The Enchanted Inkpot I was excited.  Then Charlotte reviewed the book and I was even  more excited because she compared the historical aspects to Rosemary Sutcliff's books.  I became quite impatient to read it and bought it rather than wait for the library to get it in.  This turned out to be for the best as I would have bought it anyway because it is wonderful.
Synopsis (from book jacket):
When he was a baby, Rune washed up onshore in a boat, along with a sword and a pendant bearing the runes that gave him his nickname. Some people thought he was a sacrifice to the gods and wanted to send him right back to the sea. Luckily for Rune, King Beowulf disagreed. He lifted the boy from the boat and gave him to Amma, a wisewoman living on a farm far removed from the king’s hall, to raise as she saw fit.  Sixteen years later, Rune spends his summers laboring on the farm. And at King Beowulf’s request, he comes to the hall each winter for weapons training. But somehow he never quite fits in. Many people still fear he will bring a curse on the kingdom. Then a terrible thing happens. On a lonely crag on a mountain that belongs to the giants, someone awakens a dragon. It is time for Rune to find the warrior inside himself and prove to the doubters once and for all that he is a true hero.

This is Rune's story and shows his journey from taunted farm boy to one of the king's men facing a dragon, and then on to a bit more.  Through Rune's story the reader gets so much more though.  Not the least of which is a very accurate representation of Anglo Saxon life.  I have to agree that this aspect did remind me of Rosemary Sutcliff in that the power was in the details.  Small things were included that gives the reader a sense of the setting and did not require a lot of description.  There is also a lot said about seeking wisdom, governing, war, peace, love, friendship and family.  None of this is didactic, it is the story.

The  plot is fast paced.  The story covers little time.  Things with the dragon happen quickly.  The story taken from Beowulf ends about two thirds of the way in and the rest of the novel is pure invention and follows the things that occur in the land post dragon.  The end is a bit rushed and some of Rune's emotions are startling in how quick they form but it was still concluded well.

Rune is a fascinating main character who comes across as real.  I felt everything he was feeling so acutely as I read the book I actually had to double check to see what point of view it was written in before typing this review.  It is third but I could have sworn it was first.  All of the secondary characters are interesting as well, particularly Beowulf and Amma.  There are several strong females in the story and they tell of how important they were to the society they lived in.  The most interesting (to me) secondary character wasn't even introduced until 25 pages from the end and even then I thought she was just a plot point.  It wasn't until 3 pages from the end that I took notice of her.  Then it was over and I wanted to yell, "NOOOOOOO!  I want toknow about her!"  Then I remembered that Enchanted Inkpot interview and how at the end the author mentioned she was working on a book that was a companion novel to this and I vaguely recalled the main character was female.  Sure enough, it is about Hild and should come  out in 2012 and will be called Peaceweaver.  Don't worry though, The Coming of the Dragon is a stand alone novel.  It doesn't have a cliff hanger ending or anything.  It just made me really want to know Hild's story. 

The homeschool curriculum I use with my children has them reading a version of Beowulf in fourth grade.  I will be having them read this too, if for no other reason then to give me an excuse to reread it.

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