The Guardian of Gildain, Book 1: The Snow Dragon by M. L. Miller (2016) – Too often, adult writers who deal with YA (Young Adult) for teenagers forget what being a teenager was really like. During that time, everything is life or death drama from the length of your pants to the botched homework assignment. Match that with raging hormones and an undeveloped frontal lobe, it’s no wonder we adults filter the trauma of being a teenager.
Ms. Miller somehow has kept that teen angst alive in her writing. Her hero, Clay, is a shy basketball player and a wizard (and more!). He squeezes in his magical training between his regular schooling and his time on the team with an old wizardess next door. He lives with his single dad, has a best friend, and blushes when the cute red-headed girl smiles at him.
When the old woman is killed by an evil wizard with golden eyes, Clay discovers he’s much more than a wizard. He’s a bi-species Guardian who protects his ice-bound dragon world (where he becomes a huge dragon who has to learn to fly and interact with other dragons in their majestic halls) and his human one.
The quest involves a missing crystal Clay needs to close the portal and the integration of his two Companions, one a dragon and one the redheaded classmate. While the dragon dimension is becoming colder, Earth is becoming warmer (a nod to global warming?). There are many satisfying twists and turns in the story. The old woman was really Clay’s dragon mother and his human father knew all along his son was special and magical. Oh, and the golden-eyed bad guy is his brother, a failed Guardian.
When I was describing this to my 12-year-old grandson, he said he thought it would be cool to read. Although, like Harry Potter, the prose is at an adult level, the dialogue is definitely teen. While I enjoyed the entire book, I particularly liked the fact that the book’s story concluded in one volume. Too many books I’ve read lately have been the first third of a story and not part of a larger arc. This is an independent novel with and ending but clever ties to the next one.
This book feels like a big thick epic fantasy, and that’s something I missed while reading it. Each short chapter (and some are very short) felt as if it should be part of something bigger. I think this could easily have been elevated to an adult fantasy with a teenage protagonist. I wished the chapters had been filled with more description and narrative. I don’t usually say that about any book, but this one felt as if I was reading an abridged version, and I’d have liked to read the Tolkien release.