CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 4. . . September 29, 2017
Two years after Elayne adventured in Goloth, a parallel world where she rescued a unicorn and overthrew a king-elect, she still is not coping well with the return to New York City. When a visit to yet another therapist ends with a dragon invading her mind, and rumours of a two-headed snake – a friend from Goloth – on the news, 18-year-old Elayne is more than ready to return to Goloth. Unfortunately, her father heads there first. With the two-headed snake and Huy, a classmate from university, Elayne returns to a Goloth rent by civil war and invaded by the Glanasa, island people who feed prisoners to their living dragon deity. Elayne befriends griffins, reunites with her unicorn, and, in a reluctant alliance with Leo, former king-elect and arch-enemy, sails with a crew of pirates to Glana to defeat the dragon who threatens both Goloth and New York City.
After a rocky beginning, the writing style and narrative tone even out as the story progresses. There are a few passages that will make the reader snort with laughter, and several more where a deft turn of phrase will prompt a smile. The dialogue is consistent with the characterization. The pace is quick, and worldbuilding is generally well-incorporated throughout the narrative.
The opening chapters appear almost as the novelization of a film: dramatic episodes with intense moods follow each other. Elayne’s visit to yet another therapist is almost parodic, except that parody has a point; the point of this scene seems to be to mock therapists, particularly Austrian therapists, and implicitly to mock people who need therapy. The therapist’s method of treatment bears no relation to modern counseling, despite the contemporary setting, and the pleasant change of reading a female character whose trauma manifests largely as anger and aggressive, risk-seeking behaviour is severely undercut when Elayne’s trauma disappears as soon as she returns to Goloth. This casual dismissal of mental illness and the professionals who attempt to alleviate suffering is an offensive and harmful attitude, particularly in a children’s book; child readers are unlikely to have alternative views, meaning that children who have at the time of reading or who later develop mental health issues should not have to struggle with internalized resistance to the idea of counseling, as well as with their mental health.
Although at first glance a story with a young woman as the bold protagonist and Chosen One would seem feminist, the underlying – and sometimes overt – thread of the story is not. Androcentric language (mankind instead of humankind; man instead of human) is repeatedly used, and typical derogatory insults (“screaming like a girl,” p. 174) are casually slung around. The cast is largely male. Elayne is the only female character with significant on-page time. The unicorns seem almost entirely stallion, as we meet only one mare, who is rendered significant by her relationship as wife and mother to the novel’s two foregrounded male unicorns. In contrast, the dragons, who are evil, are all female. Every leading character, human or otherwise, is male; the only exception is Elayne. Elayne’s exceptional knowledge of strategy is likewise attributed to the influence of a man: Elayne understands the basics of battle because her dad had wanted a son; lacking one, he taught her, instead. Scarab, a pirate captain, has three female followers, all of whom call him “Master”, and all of whom seem to be sexually involved with him. When one of these three women, the book’s sole woman of colour, is wounded in a bar fight, she brushes off the blow to her head with the claim that it is “nothing that a little rest and a visit from my master would not cure” (p. 224). Scarab’s two white women are not injured.
Elayne’s friend and classmate at university, Huy (pronounced We) Phan, at first offers respite: the son of Vietnamese boat people, Huy is a brilliant hacker, brave, boldly old-fashioned in his finicky sartorial choices, Canadian, and gay. A martial artist, Huy is logical and loyal, and a good friend to Elayne. The pleasure of an intersectional character (Asian and queer) is marred slightly by the food-related descriptions of Huy’s, and later Scarab’s, skin colour and by their twin and slightly cliché obsession with fantastical and flamboyant attire. More problematic is their abrupt romantic relationship. Huy ultimately decides to stay in Goloth with Scarab, a man who first betrayed and later rescued the main characters, and whose romantic-cum-sexual interest in Huy is of dubious value since Scarab is apparently still involved with his harem of female fighters and crew.
Unfortunately, the novel’s other romantic couple, Elayne and Leo, is equally undeveloped. Leo, former king-elect and would-be tyrant, is apparently a reformed character. There is little character development, however, and the relationship between Elayne and Leo is both predictable and unconvincing.
Of greater concern, however, is the portrayal of the villainous Glanasa. Although the chapters set in New York City use a few national stereotypes, the Glanasa are an entirely racist cliché: an island people, warriors, despised by their own deity, whose goal is to sacrifice enemies to their evil god. The Glanasa are dark-skinned, in contrast to the pale-skinned and blond-haired Golothians. Glana has spices and chocolate but no real culture. The Glanasa’s weapons are, at first contact, inferior to those of the Golothians; they hold “great ceremonies of chanting, drums and song” (p. 109) which end with their enemies being chained to a rock for the dragon to feast on. Similarly horrifying is Elayne’s mental comparison of the Glanasa with Muslim terrorists, implicit though the statement is: “I’ve seen fanatics back home. Driven by their beliefs in a savage god to murder, slaughter. No matter how many of them you kill they won’t stop. News footage horrors from around the world came into her head.” (p. 182, italics original) No religious group is as vilified in western media as Muslims; it is hard to read this passage as anything but Islamophobic. There are no named Glanasa characters; they are functionally faceless, enemy bodies to be destroyed. I will pass over the novel’s other micro-aggressions (Indigenous readers be warned).
The Hunt of the Dragon, a sequel to The Hunt of the Unicorn, is a dramatic adventure featuring characters from different worlds and of different species who find the home and the work for which they have longed. Unfortunately, racism, sexism, and uneven writing take the pleasure out of this adventure tale.
Janet Eastwood is a graduate of UBC’s Master of Arts in Children’s Literature Program and now works as an editor.
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This Creative Commons license allows you to download the review and share it with others as long as you credit the CM Association. You cannot change the review in any way or use it commercially.
Commercial use is available through a contract with the CM Association. This Creative Commons license allows publishers whose works are being reviewed to download and share said CM reviews provided you credit the CM Association.