Young Calen is a mage-in-training in the kingdom of Trelian, newly apprenticed to the stern master magician, Serek. Meglynne is a middle princess with a reputation for impulsive, un-princessy behavior; her older sister has always been her best friend, but soon her sister will be gone, married to a prince from the neighboring kingdom, thus ending a long-standing war. These two lonely children meet when they both sneak away from their duties to spy on the prince’s procession, and they quickly strike up a friendship based on mutual need. Calen needs someone to believe in his ability and dedication to magic in a way that his disapproving master doesn’t seem to, and Meg needs someone she can trust with a dangerous secret — she’s found a baby dragon, a rare species in Trelian, and has been hiding it in a nearby cave outside of the palace grounds. Meg relies on Calen to research dragons and advise her, especially after they realize she and the dragon have formed a mental bond that allows them to share thoughts and power. During one of their meetings, Meg and Calen overhear a powerful ambassador from Kragnir plotting the death of Meg’s sister in order to rekindle the war, but before they can warn anyone, they are caught and sent far from the kingdom with a powerful spell. Now, Meg and Calen must find their way back to Trelian in time to save Meg’s sister, and they have only Calen’s fledging powers and Meg’s link with the dragon Jackl to rely on.
This is a solid fantasy for middle school and high school ages, and one that I very much enjoyed reading. The way magic works in the world, and especially the way it is regulated is interesting and well thought out (magicians have tattoos that represent their abilities; these tattoos change and grow as their powers do, and it is illegal to practice magic without the tattoos). Dragons have been done to death, but Knudson does a credible job using dragons as a way to explore Meg’s fear that her true self will be swept away in the tide of the dragon’s power. As the dragon doesn’t have human feelings and is quite threatening, she naturally worries about what kind of person she will become and how others will see her.
Also, Calen and Meg have a great friendship. Despite their status differences, they treat each other as equals and trust each other. I also like that Knudson did not make all of the adults in the book into clueless morons who blunder in and ruin everything; Calen’s master Serek proves to be a strong force on their side. He listens to them, and then he acts on the knowledge in appropriately adult ways, not by confining them to their rooms or telling them they’re imagining things, but by doing his own quiet research and protecting and supporting them when needed.
Overall I was really surprised by how much I liked this book, and I hope the next one continues the strong writing, plotting, and character development.