Legends of the Sky by Liz Flanagan, first published in the UK in 2018 as Dragon Daughter and reprinted in the US in 2019, is set on the island nation of Arcosi. Dragons have long been extinct on Arcosi, but still play a powerful symbolic role in the culture. (For what it’s worth, I like the UK title better! I think it more effectively conveys both the importance of dragons and the revelations about long-lost family that the heroine, Milla, will experience.)
Milla is a young servant girl who witnesses a murder. The killer doesn’t find the prize they were looking for, but Milla does—a bag containing four dragon eggs. In time these eggs come to the attention of the Duke, who wants control of them to increase his power, but it turns out that dragon hatchlings bond strongly to one person and cannot thrive without that person. One bonds to Milla, the others to three other young people, and now the Duke needs them. The kids are kept as what amounts to glorified prisoners as the hatchlings grow.
Meanwhile, unrest is brewing in Arcosi. The official story has it that the Duke’s family found the island empty when they arrived, but that turns out not to be the case. Now the group that was oppressed (to which Milla has connections, though she doesn’t know it at first) is mounting a renewed resistance, while the Duke becomes increasingly brutal in his attempts to quash it. If you’re looking for a digestible way to explain to kids how a society can gradually slide deeper into xenophobia and authoritarianism, Legends of the Sky should do the trick.
What also works well is the process of bonding with the dragons, which I found surprisingly affecting even as an adult reader. I don’t usually expect middle-grade books to deeply touch my jaded old heart, but it did. This scene is really well done.
The pacing works less well. While the kids are confined in the Duke’s palace, sometimes it seems like no time is passing at all, and then suddenly the dragons have grown much larger. Then, as the end of the book approaches, a war is about to begin; looking at how much book was left, I thought, “OK, I suppose this is a setup for the sequel.” Nope, the entire war happens right there at the end, which makes it seem kind of rushed and jarring.
While Legends of the Sky is not without its problems, it’s worth a try. A sequel, Rise of the Shadow Dragons, is out this month in the UK and will likely come to the US in a year or so.