Title: Dragonswood I Author: Janet Lee Carey I Publisher: Penguine/Dial
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for Dragonswood:
Tess has endured a lot in her short life. She has witnessed an execution, watched her siblings die, been accused of witchcraft and tortured. She has now escaped to begin a magical adventure that could bring three races together for the common good.
Actual Plot Summary: This is a modern fairy story set in the year 1192; these are dangerous days for all women and not just those like seventeen year old Tess who possesses the power of fire sight. Now that the king is dead, Lord Sackmoore acts as regent until the king's eldest son can return from crusading. He has set loose his niece (Lady Adela) upon the land to rid the countryside of witches. Lady Adela was herself captured and brutally tortured by witches and this has left her lame and blind in one eye. The Fey people have taken pity on Adela and have fashioned a glass eye for her. Some say that Lady Adela can detect a witch just by casting her gaze upon someone with that glass eye.
The leaders of Wilde Island have made it clear that no one is to venture of into Dragonswood because that is where people go to commune with Satan. But Tess cannot help it. She is drawn to that enchanted place where dragons and the fairy fey live peacefully (in spite of the fact that mankind is slowing encroaching on their territory.) After Tess has endured one her father's frequent beatings, she likes to go there to draw.
Lady Adela comes to Wilde Island to winnow out the witches of the town. Tess's father accuses the town's midwife of witchery because all of his many children – except Tess – have died before their first birthday. The midwife knows of Tess's wanderings into Dragonswood and accuses her of killing her siblings. Tess is taken into custody and brutally tortured before she implicates her friends (Poppy and Meg) as witches.
After surviving her water trial, Tess escapes Wilde Island with her friends. With the help of a woodsman named Garth, they rescue Meg's husband and daughter. It is soon revealed that Tess and Poppy are actually half-fey and both possess some fairy powers. They are taken to Dragonswood where they are convinced to help the fey people fulfill their long-anticipated prophecy by presenting themselves to the half-dragon/ future king for marriage. The remaining story entertains traditional fairytale adventure as the girls confront the truth that they do not wish to marry the future king. Poppy has fallen in love with a fey court jester and Tess loves Garth who is later revealed to be the future king's brother.
This young adult book has earned a mature rating for graphic violence and extreme stereotyping. It also contains mild romance and sexual references, mildly inappropriate language, mild suspense, mild alcohol references, and mild fantasy. It receives three and a half stars for story development.
Review : If any author had written a book that was as blatantly stereotypical about women or ethnic minorities or Muslims in the same way as this author has written about men and Christians, it would have been labeled bigotry and never would have been recommended by the American Library Association.
But misandry and misanthropy are quite the rage these days, so if you want to tell a young reader that wife and child beating is the sum total of man's contribution to history, there's really nothing to stop you. If you want to paint an image for young readers of early Christianity as a collaborative attempt to quell the natural gifts and intelligence of women, by all means…have at it. You'll not only get published for your study in cliché, you'll be praised by the ALA for having contributed to the scourging, hurtful formulae that is meant to beat down America's sons and Christians.
It is not enough that the main character of Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey is horrifically abused by the man she believes is her father or that one of Tess's earliest memories is of her father participating in the frenzy and mob mentality associated with witch burning. It is not enough that Tess is so brutally and frequently beaten that she is left with blackened eyes or broken bones or a deformed and deafened ear. One character would not be enough to sufficiently underscore the inhumanity of patriarchy in the minds of your daughters and sons.
Instead and per the author, the whole of male society – save three men who are God's gift to Vitruvian perfection – beat women, use women or burn women who can't be controlled.
A woman is burned at the stake because she opened a candle shop. Oh, and forget that Tess has fire sight…which is extraordinarily commonplace in the world of fantasy/fiction – I mean, every young woman over the age of sixteen seems to have fire sight or some similar supernatural gift if we are to take the emphasis of fiction writers to heart…because that alone would have her tried as a witch. Just as important is that Tess might well be put to death because she contemplates the idea of staying single to make her own living drawing pictures.
"[Jane Fine] sold artful candles, Meg. I draw." "What's the difference? Living by your lonesome, without a man to protect you? They'll call you a witch – burn you."
Because men were never burned as witches, I guess. Actually, men were burned. Children were burned. Dogs and cats were burned. But that evil is not a reflection of Christianity or patriarchal society. A witch hunt is what happens when people stoke the flames of hatred.
Or how about this little gem:
"[Meg] was lucky to have wed Tom Weaver when she was fourteen. Tom was a youth with little means who lived with his mother and his father, Old Weaver. He'd never beaten Meg or their daughter, Alice, to my knowledge. Tom was the exception.
I touched my puffy eye as we walked on. So many women in town wore the dull, downtrodden look that went with cuts, bruises and broken bones. Ah, I'd noticed the tipped heads and hunched shoulders. I'd noticed the same look in my mother's pinched face and in my own after my father had broken my arm."
Isn't that splendid? That all men suck? That all men are wife-beating brutes that expend all their energy on various ways to keep the splendor of women down? How in the world did early man find enough time to invent the wheel for all the determination it took to beat their wives? It calls to mind one of my favorite philosophers GK Chesterton who wondered of the stereotype placed upon our earliest men:
"I can never comprehend why, when male was so very rude, the female should have been so very refined…People have been interested in everything about the cave man except what he really did in the cave. Now there does happen to be some real evidence of what he did in the cave. It is little enough, like all prehistoric evidence, but it is concerned with the real cave man and his cave and not the literary cave man and his club. And it will be valuable to our sense of reality to consider quite simply what the real evidence is and not go beyond it. What was found in the cave was not the club, the horrible gory club notched with the number of women it had knocked on the head. The cave was not a Bluebeard's Chamber filled with the skeletons of slaughtered wives; it was not filled with female skulls all arranged in rows and all cracked like eggs. It was something quite unconnected, one way or another, with all the modern phrases and philosophical rumors which confuse the whole question for us."
But back to the story. And yes, Tess – we learn – is a dutiful Catholic who prays to her favorite saints for intervention. Keep in mind that the saints to which she solemnly prays for assistance in her time of need are part of a collection of early Christian men and women often cited by new ageists, atheists and secularists to bolster their claims of Christian illegitimacy.
Saint Cuthbert, Saint Thecla, Saint Barbara, Saint Agricola, Saint Placid [Placidus], Saint Brigid are all valuable parts of the early the Church to which many men and women converted from paganism. Their stories, having soft documentation and a good deal of oral tradition as part of their makeup, are riddled with inconsistencies and are, therefore, part of the secularists' litany of proof that the Church used hegemonic means to commandeer Celtic heroes and convert them into early mystics and martyred saints.
The author's implication methinks is that these saints were seized by the Church to rob pagans of their heroes, but that paganism was and is a powerful religion of equal guidance to Christianity and was simply a victim of the Church's unfair PR war.
Indeed, the lovely and gifted Tess prays to the great Saint Scholastica who is the twin sister of the great Saint Benedict. Church detractors and feminists like to suggest that Scholastica is the coauthor of Benedictine traditions but isn't given her due because it's a man's world. This supposed omission – to the feminists – represents a great patriarchal conspiracy of the Church to keep women down.
For a Catholic, these saints individually represent an important time in the early Church and they are honored for their sacrifice, mysticism and martyrdom. When Christian detractors choose to group such saints together, they do so to accuse the Church of hypocrisy over its supposed pagan roots and pagan saints.
It suggests, for instance, that the thunderstorm that ensued when Saint Scholastica asked God to keep Saint Benedict from leaving her so she could enjoy his company a while longer was actually caused by Scholastica the closet pagan by using her thunder sight or some such nonsense to bring about the tempest.
I will leave aside the religious concerns that I have with this book for my recommendation, but I still do not recommend this book for children under the age of 17 because its defamatory mischaracterization of men only wounds the psyche of girls and boys and encourages young women to distrust the opposite sex. Such disparaging depictions inspire children of both sexes to detach themselves from Western culture for the false accusation of brutal and systemic violence toward women.