• William Stark

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke: Engaging quest story (with friendly dragons!)

Updated: Jan 3

Overall rating: 9/10


Plot: 9/10

Quality of writing: 8.5/10

Characters: 9/10

Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): minimal

Difficulty: 2/10

Age level: 8 and up


Summary

With humans threatening to invade the Scottish valley where they have hidden for hundreds of years, the dragons send one of their number, Firedrake, along with the brownie Sorrel to search for the Rim of Heaven, a legendary valley in the Himalayas that has been a refuge for their kind since time immemorial. Along the way, they meet Ben, a homeless orphan who joins them on their quest, inadvertently fulfilling an ancient prophecy about a “dragon rider.” However, the quest is interrupted when Nettlebrand, an evil mechanical dragon created by an alchemist to hunt other dragons, discovers Firedrake and his friends, deciding to follow them to the Rim of Heaven.

With an engaging storyline and personable characters, Dragon Rider is a fun and fairly easy read, especially for fans of the fantasy genre. Although geared more towards younger readers, this book has found fans from all age groups and was the New York Times bestseller at one time. Overall, fans of fantasy and adventure stories will certainly enjoy this engaging and fun story.


Plot

The plot of Dragon Rider centers around Firedrake, Sorrel, and Ben’s quest to find the Rim of Heaven and defeat Nettlebrand. Throughout the story, the plot develops at a pace calculated to keep young readers engaged and interested; it also has plenty of suspense and action. That said, older readers may find the plot a bit too straightforward, as it is definitely geared towards the 8 to 12 age group. However, this relative simplicity is a plus for younger readers, since it makes the plot easier to understand and therefore more readable. Overall, while the plot is perhaps too simple for older readers, it works out well for the story’s intended age range. (9/10)


Characters

Funke does an excellent job of populating her story with personable and convincing characters: Sorrel the brownie, Firedrake the dragon, and Professor Greenbloom the human, just to name a few. Funke also incorporates a villain who is definitely evil and often “scary,” yet can also be amusing at times, making for an interesting juxtaposition. Despite these pluses, Funke’s characters do tend towards under-development, and it is also unclear who the main protagonist is (the beginning makes it seem like Firedrake, but the end seems to identify Ben as the main character). However, most readers from the story’s intended age group won’t really care about these (admittedly minor) flaws, and their effect on the story overall is negligible. (9/10)


Difficulty

Dragon Rider is written in a fairly simple style that is extremely readable, but still remains interesting, especially for younger readers. The plot is quite straightforward, and the characters are not overly complex. Overall, this book deserves a 2/10 rating on difficulty.


Quality of writing

Funke makes this book reasonably engaging, especially for its age level, with plenty of action and suspense, as well as lots of imaginative “fabulous creatures.” The characters are also well-written and believable (if a bit under-developed) and the book on the whole is a fun and easy read. That said, there are a few points in the story where a bit more descriptive language would be nice (although this may be the fault of the translation: Dragon Rider was originally written in German). Overall, the quality of writing in this book is not perfect, but still quite good. (8.5/10)


Concerning content

This book has no language (the brownies use the names of mushrooms as exclamations), and the one fight scene is short and entirely non-graphic. Parents of younger readers would do well to note that scenes involving the villain (Nettlebrand) can be a bit “scary;” however, Funke balances these with scenes where Nettlebrand is much less scary (dialoguing with a grumpy dwarf, for example). Finally, the story does incorporate a bit of a “humans are bad, animals are good” message, especially when the dragons reflect that “No one can live in harmony with human beings… when something frightens them… they destroy it.” Overall, there isn’t too much to worry about in Dragon Rider, but parents of readers should still exercise their own judgement on whether to give their children this book.


Age level

This book has a simple and readable style of writing and the plot is quite straightforward. Additionally, it has no language, violence, or crass humor; overall, this book is best for ages 8 to 12.

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