I'm always so happy to have another Sarah Prineas book to hand to students, and her latest novel Dragonfell is an excellent addition to her list books. (I am so impressed with how her MG books have incredibly different premises but are still very much her signature style.)
Rafi is different. He knows it, and everyone in his village knows it. His appearance is odd, he doesn't get cold, he can see far distances and at night, and he loves to spend his days up on the abandoned dragon lair near his village. (Their old dragon hoarded tea cups.) When mysterious strangers coming looking for a boy lighting looms on fire, Rafi finds himself an instant suspect. It doesn't help that he started a fire right where said strangers were standing. Amidst accusations of being "dragon touched" and insinuations that he is bad luck at best and criminally dangerous at worst, Rafi sets off on a journey to discover all he can about the dragons of his land and why they are disappearing. Along the way he finds an ally in a young researcher named Maud. Rafi and Maud find dragons, but also a sinister plot hatched by a hunter of dragons who wants dragon power for his own nefarious purposes. And he has his sights on Rafi's mysterious abilities next.
Rafi is an excellent protagonist, and one any kid who has felt slightly outside of the norm but not quite bothered about it will relate too. Rafi knows he is different. He has questions, and he wants answers to those questions. However, he isn't really bothered about being different. It's more that he is bothered by some people's reactions to his differences. When he meets Maud, he tries to disguise some of them, but she, clever girl she is, catches on. Maud is an excellent partner for Rafi. Her strengths and weaknesses parallel his in the most perfect ways. Maud accepts Rafi wholeheartedly as he is. The two of them have a truly remarkable friendship that survives misunderstandings and half-truths and danger. I appreciated the way their conflicts were discussed and talked out without allowing misunderstanding to fester and grow into resentment. All of the secondary characters (both dragon and human) are memorable as well.
There is a lot going on in this book thematically. Prineas is working with issues that affect all of humanity that are quite weighty. From the workings of propaganda in the minds of people who are scared ofc hanging times to environmental destruction to consumerist cooperations, there are many layers and facets to the story being told. Folded seamlessly into the fantasy world and presented as they are, these themes are worked in exactly the right way for any age audience.
Dragonfell is an excellent fantasy book to add to any middle grade reader's collection. (And there are dragons. You can never go wrong with dragons.)