Monday, 16 November 2015

The Girl the Dragon Called

竜が呼んだ娘  (ryuu ga yonda musume, The Girl the Dragon Called, 2013) is a children's fantasy by KASHIWABA Sachiko (柏葉幸子), a writer best known for 霧のむこうのふしぎな町 (The Marvellous Village Veiled in Mist, 1975). That and りんご畑の特別列車 (The Apple Orchard Special Train, 1989) that I discussed earlier are towards the more nonsensical or whimsical end of the spectrum of children's fantasy. This book is much closer to the other end of the spectrum, an adventure set in a world in which magic is real, much like a fantasy written for adults. Visits from our world to the magic world are more likely to be found towards the "nonsense" end of the spectrum. This might be because part of the interest of such books is the strangeness of their nonsense world, and an observer from our world can react appropriately. In The Girl the Dragon Called, the heroine Mia belongs to the world of the story. Even so, readers want a character who experiences the world as something new along with them. Mia  can do that because she comes from a valley cut off from the rest of the world, the home or prison of "wrongdoers" and their descendants. The only creatures linking the valley to the outside world are dragons which can fly over the surrounding cliffs. Each spring the visit of a dragon has a special significance.

Ten year olds wondering, 'Will I be called by the dragon?' felt their hearts tremble at the thought that if that happened they would be leaving the village for good.

Not just the parents of ten year old children, but the whole village would talk about who the dragon would take this year. Sometimes no-one might be called, sometimes two or three. It was an honor to be called by the dragon.

Mia is an orphan, raised by her aunt, who had herself been taken out of the valley as a child, but then returned as an adult, for some wrongdoing of her own. When the dragon calls Mia, she realises that her aunt had been preparing her to leave all her life. The dragon always brings the children to a place where they are needed; and Mia is wanted in the palace complex of the capital. The remnants of a long past war have left behind a variety of unfinished business, that Mia must help with. She is the new servant in the rooms of the hero of that war, who is now only left as a weeping voice heard at nights.

The book is not constantly serious. There are occasional patches of humour or lighthearted adventure; but there are also episodes showing a dystopian society, and more emphasis on a child's uncertain place in the world and their relation to the adults that should care for them.

Most of the various threads of the plot get a resolution of sorts by the end of the book, so that it makes a self contained novel; but it certainly feels like the door has been left open for a sequel with more of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment