The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen (also, Michelle has a blog). (Grades 5-8.)
Being a mage's apprentice is not at all what Calen thought it would be. He was picturing a life of adventure! Daring feats of magic! Saving kingdoms and transporting people through portals and lots of other cool stuff.
But instead... well, it's kind of boring. All Mage Serek wants him to do is gather plants and study trees and practice the same boring spells endlessly. Calen doesn't see the point.
But then Serek asks him to read the divination cards. And even though Serek is quick to say that divination is hardly a precise art, he can't hide his reaction when Calen easily reads the cards. And the cards are predicting bad things for the Kingdom of Trelian.
And then there's Princess Meglynne. The first time they meet, Meg almost kills him. (It won't be the last time she almost kills him.) Meg takes an instant liking to Calen. She feels drawn to him. She trusts him. Which is good because Meg has a secret.
A secret she can't tell anyone else.
Together, Meg and Calen will be responsible for Trelian's future, and, as evil gathers in the kingdom, the future has never looked more uncertain.
To be completely honest, I wasn't at all sure I would like this book. I thought to myself, Dragons, eh? Dragons have been done. Magic, eh? Magic has been done. And while I think it's likely that the book's widest following will come from fans of other fantasy novels (Eragon, Septimus Heap, etc.), it definitely had enough surprises to keep me on my toes. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.
The first thing that struck me was the tone of the book. It's got its serious moments and there's plenty of adventure, but I enjoyed the lighter moments a lot. Here's an example from when Meg's describing the man her sister's going to marry:
..."She thinks he's quite handsome, but of course she's only ever seen his portrait, and honestly, if I were painting a portrait of a prince I'd probably make certain he looked handsome in it, too..." (pp 9-10)
The characters of Meg and Calen are complimentary to each other. Meg's feisty and impulsive. Having always gotten her own way, she demands immediate satisfaction (but not in a bratty way... well, only occasionally in a bratty way). Calen is more thoughtful. He takes his time and proceeds with caution. They sometimes drive each other crazy, but really they're the perfect adventuring duo.
Like I said, I'd hand this to any fan of Eragon, Septimus Heap, or Dealing with Dragons. It's got enough comfortable fantasy elements to keep them happy, but it's got enough twists on the familiar to keep things interesting. The ending is an obvious setup for a sequel, but it wraps things up very satisfactorily.
I reviewed this book as part of the Kidz Book Buzz blog tour and you should definitely check out the rest of the stops on these lovely blogs:
A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children's Books, Becky's Book Reviews, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, Novel Teen, Reading is My Superpower, Reading to Know, Small World Reads, The 160 Acre Woods, Through a Child's Eyes, and Through the Looking Glass Reviews.