Jane Yolen,
Dragon's Blood
(Delacorte, 1982; Harcourt, 1996)

Dragon's Blood is the first book in Jane Yolen's classic Pit Dragon Trilogy.

Austair IV is a former colony of exiled convicts and their guards which has evolved into a society of masters and bond servants. Bond servants have the opportunity to pay off their bonds, literally "filling their bags" -- the pouches which hang around their necks until they are free. Bond servants can use their money as they please, but each coin spent is one more that has to be earned.

Jakkin Stewart, 15, works for Master Sarakkhan, a farmer who breeds and raises dragons which fight competitively in pits. Formerly free, he is a hard worker with a knack for dragons, and his ambitions rest on a single goal: to steal a dragon's egg from the barn and raise his own fighting dragon. But an accident involving one of the adult dragons foils his plans -- at first. Desperate, Jakkin takes a hatchling from a miscounted litter and begins the long dreamed-of task of raising and training his own dragon.

All of this is done in secret, at night when his work is done. He finds an unexpected ally in Akki, an independent girl not much older than he who works in the infirmary, but he knows that he must also avoid Likkarn, a bitter old bondsman addicted to the blisterweed which grows in abundance on the planet. Jakkin faces each obstacle relentlessly and stubbornly, focused on his goal and ultimately, his freedom.

Jakkin is a strong central character, and he doesn't grow as much as he seems to be refined. He learns the difference between pride and determination, almost at the risk of his dragon, and he learns to trust others. Yolen's society is rugged and geared to allow the most determined to excel; Jakkin's master, Sarakkhan, was a bondsman himself.

Some readers may find the main thrust of the plot disturbing, that the dragons are raising solely for pit fighting. It certainly kept me from reading the book for years. Pit fighting, however, fits into the context of the society she created, one which has taken on a life of its own. Furthermore, the reader becomes involved with Jakkin and his dragon, and that is enough reason to keep reading.

The resolution is a bit predictable, and the pieces fall into place a little too smoothly at the end, but that can be forgiven in a book that is compelling and well-written overall.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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