Pan Macmillan (2005)
Reviewed by Rachel Holkner (this review was first published in July 2007)
Kate Forsyth’s Dragon Gold is a novel for younger readers that takes most of the staples of fantasy writing (dragons, princesses, pirates, flying carpets) and smooshes them into a plot that, if nothing else, will prepare the audience for Harry Potter.
Ben wishes for a dog more than anything in the world. After a long and convoluted argument, in which the focus changes from wanting a pet to wanting money, he figures that what he really needs to realise his wish are wizardly powers. A run in with a talking cat enables him, and Ben, younger brother Tim and best friend James, set out to find some dragon’s gold. The plot twist here hinges on a grammatical error that may be missed by young readers. Ben inadvertently wishes for dragon gold, whereby one appears and whisks away James’ younger sister.
Some basic wish fulfillment is well done in this story – a midnight feast, a flying carpet made from a town playmat, the neighbourhood witch’s house turning out to be real. But the disappointment is a big one. The major theme of Dragon Gold is that the stolen “princess” must be rescued by the three boys (dressed as pirate, wizard and knight). Perhaps I’m only going to cause myself physical pain in wanting this particular hackneyed plot to be retired in an era where consumerism, princess-ism, passivity and gendered colour schemes are prevalent, but I keep (wishfully) thinking that we’ve moved beyond it.
Given the tagline “Ben and Tim’s Magical Misadventures” indicates that this is the beginning of a series (Wishing for Trouble followed in 2006), it would be good if Tim somehow contributed to the story line. Perhaps the character is too young to offer more than two word sentences, but this shouldn’t prevent him from participating in moving the plot forward. James too, older brother to the hapless Princess Sarah, seemed to tag along.
Ben himself did not appear overly proactive and at one point the characters were so out of control of their own fate that the dragon itself had to conveniently make 180 degree turns in his demeanor so that the children would never really be in danger.
The text is uncomplicated, ideal for young readers, but there are some puzzling metaphors (ancient acne scars are not likely to be a point of reference for pre-teens). The illustrations are cheerfully done, but occasionally, in small ways, contradict the text.
This simple, straightforward storyline is likely to appeal to 5-9 year olds. The sparkly cover will attract readers, but this is unlikely to become a repeatedly read favourite.