By Ross B. Lampert
Debrah Strait applies some unique twists to classic Young Adult story tropes in The Dragon’s Gold. While fire-breathing dragons, damsels in distress, and bumbling knights are nothing new, the same dragon with a bad cough and a damsel who doesn’t want to be rescued are new, at least in my limited YA reading.
The Tisbees, Sitwells, and Neales are three small but noble clans who occupy the eastern two-thirds of the Isle of Zuber. Before Queen Wiltrude passed away without an heir, the three clans were prosperous, trading with each other and the Sadirrans on the west side of the mountains, and with the peoples across the ocean. But since the queen died, the clans have been reduced to sloth, lethargy, and kidnapping members of the other families for ransom. Before she died, the queen had promised that whichever clan became “great,” which to the clans means “rich,” could become “royal” and rule the island. But since none of the clans have much gold, they don’t think they’re rich enough to become royal. The only solution they can see is to get the dragon who lives in the mountains to give them his gold.
Problem is, they’re too lazy and cowardly to go get it.
The task falls to Sir Gilford, the unwilling and unwanted adoptee of the Sitwell clan, and the last of Queen Wiltrude’s line. Unfortunately, the gangly, awkward Gilford makes a mess of everything he tries, and is mocked and bullied by the rest of his adoptive family. His at-first unwilling partner is the Lady Brianna, an adoptee too, who is smart as a whip but also has as much tact as one.
Sir Gilford is sent to win the gold after he fails to keep Brianna from being kidnapped by some of the knights of the Neale clan. The Sitwells would actually be happy to let the Neales keep the harridan Brianna, who quickly come to regret having taken her. While the Neales’ ransom demand is more than the Sitwells can afford, they can’t abandon her, and the Neales cannot break with tradition by sending her back unpaid-for.
The dragon turns out to be a rather friendly sort but before he’ll part with any of his gold, he sends Gilford off on one mission after another to prove he deserves the gold. Every time, Gilford botches the task, but the dragon sends him back out to try again.
Eventually, with a little help from the dragon, he accidentally frees Brianna and they form a reluctant friendship. They begin to work together and finally get the clans to do the same for the benefit of everyone on Zuber.
Does anyone ever get the gold? I’ll just say that they all get something more precious than precious metal. It’s not what they wished for; it’s definitely better.
The dragon has a secret wish, too, and while he doesn’t get his wish either, what he does get provides a satisfying if bittersweet ending to the story.
Strait handles her cast and story deftly. The clans are all silly but in distinctly different ways, with sweet little subplots woven throughout their relations. Gilford tries hard but finds new and creative ways to fail at each task he’s given. Brianna’s intelligence and good heart shine through despite her sharp tongue. And the dragon provides the moral center and compass they all need.
Young readers—middle graders as well as young adults—and those young at heart, will find plenty of situations to giggle over and characters to identify with and root for. Well recommended.