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Thomas Bloor

Friday, February 10, 2012



This rollicking adventure follows thirteen-year-old Euan Redcap on a fantasy quest that begins with him being hoisted feet first into the air. He soon finds himself press-ganged into service as ‘fetcher’ aboard The Drunken Molly, a dragon hunter’s airship peopled by a cast of scurvy crewmen, depicted with considerable warts-and-all relish. There’s shades of Melville’s Moby Dick here, with a crazed lady captain, Mrs Zachariah, unhinged by the loss of her husband and child and driven by desire for revenge against the White Sow, a hug albino dragon that she blames for her bereavement. The setting shifts from the green fields of the lowlands, based on the author’s own childhood home on the Scottish borders, to the skies above the barren tundra, which according to dragon-hunter legend is home to tribes of inhuman cannibals. It’s here that Euan encounters the cruelties of dragon hunting, which prick his conscience and help to foreshadow the coming change in our hero’s attitudes.   

When at last The Drunken Molly encounters their long-sought prey, Euan finds himself hanging from a rope once more, this time required to serve as dragon-bait. In a scene reminiscent of Sinbad’s encounter with the Roc, Euan ends up carried on the dragon’s back to the mountain lair of the White Sow herself. Here he encounters a mysterious hooded figure and the story takes another twist. At this point an element of environmental parable enters into proceedings, with the over-harvesting of dragon-fire standing in for fossil fuels and the impending drought a reference to peak oil. The message is handled with a light touch, however, and with enough dark humour to avoid preachiness.

The tale ends as it should, with the reader’s hopes for Euan’s future satisfied, while the narrative door is left ajar just enough to allow for a sequel, which the author is currently at work on. As well as Moby Dick, The Tale of Euan Redcap also draws on past classics like Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and it stands as an enjoyable addition to a certain sub-genre in children’s fiction, one currently inhabited by sagas such as Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines, not to mention the steam punk-stylings of Studio Ghibli animation. 



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