It's all too easy to dismiss current Young Adult Fantasy as little more than some trend-chasing, attention-begging pablum, plucked from a slush pile by some no-name Agent or Editor and shoved in the faces of a book buying public in the hopes of making a quick buck. All the while chasing the heights of Harry Potter and aspiring to the legacy of Le Guin.
But then, sometimes, the genre can surprise you. A simple, unassuming tale, written by nobody you'd have heard of before, can grad hold of you; and even when you're done reading, the world the story shows you might let you go, but you don't let go of it.
That was what The Truth about Dragon Slayers, by T. A. Petersön, was like for me.
Reminiscent of an older school of Fantasy writing, the plot and characters do away with the deep, circuitous, often convoluted intrigue of more modern stories and settles for a simple plot with endearing characters, and a world you want to get lost in.
With that in mind, this book wouldn't appeal to everyone. This isn't the kind of book that will generate detailed plot analyses or deep character dives. Though the characters seem simple, almost two-dimensional, and the story appears fairly straight forward, both are fully fleshed out and eminently enjoyable. It may not be as dense as some other books of its kind but it is far from cotton candy.
If there is one thing this book excels at, far and away above modern Fantasy stories, it is in its world-building and character interactions. Whilst most other stories might treat you to any entire page of back story about a town, or sometimes just a sentence, The Truth about Dragon Slayers puts you in the world by peppering in the information either through what the characters experience or through a witty aside which serves to strengthen the story telling. If there was a single word that could be used to describe this, it is Simplicity, but simplicity in the same way a sword is forged. It may be little more than a sharp, shiny piece of metal, but the work put into it has made the piece of metal shine and cut like a razor.
In another departure from modern works, the book's use of language is also a stand-out factor. Opting for clear, accessible language with flourishes and character as opposed to the over-wrought yet flatly plain style seen more recently. As mentioned before, it reminds the reader of an earlier time in Fantasy, where you weren't bogged down by a glossary of terms that felt vestigial but rang hollow. It is more a light, airy read that will have you reaching for a thesaurus at least once. There is a charm in that that is, sadly, lost. With that in mind, this may also turn away some of the more hardcore Fantasy fans, as it does come off a little toothless in places. This book won't bite your hand off, it will, at most, leave you with a nasty scratch.
That's not to say it is not an enthralling work. The simplicity shines through, again, in how small descriptors can separate a story from the rest of pack. Like establishing the world of the book takes place in had nine days in a week, two cardinal directions, and a non-spherical planet are all used to make the world more vibrant and unique. Whilst this approach is rather novel, it will leave some readers feeling like they might be too old for this book – conversely, whilst the humour doesn't take itself too seriously, a good degree of it would go amiss on younger readers.
The best way to surmise this book is charming. From the characters, the way they speak and interact with the world and one another to the way settings, traditions, and customs are described, it is all simple, enchanting, and utterly charming. The philosophy behind the book, the first in what I hope is an ongoing (as described by both the book's author and the publisher as) Meta-Series is one of big, memorable characters in a small, strange, and inviting world.
With charm, mountains of wit to spare, and even representation that doesn't feel forced of token, The Truth about Dragon Slayers is a book for those craving a fun, light-hearted story, with a solid core of old-school Fantasy core, have been waiting for.