Several years ago, I read Dragon Rider, a middle-grade fantasy about a dragon named Firedrake and his rider, Ben, and their quest to find the dragons a new home, which I absolutely loved. Recently, book 2, The Griffin’s Feather, was released in the UK, so I simply had to pick it up.
The story focuses on the efforts of a group of conservationists for fabulous creatures (as they’re referred to in the book), who are Ben’s adoptive family. They’ve just found the last pair of winged horses – but the mare is attacked by a venomous creature and dies, and only she had the power to keep her foals alive.
The stallion agrees to bring the foals to the sanctuary where the conservationists (the Greenbloom family) live, where they discuss possible ways to save the foals. Many important scientists and conservationists for fabulous (and ‘non-fabulous’) creatures chip in with their ideas and opinions, and eventually the only valid option is to use the marrow from a griffin’s feather. Unfortunately, griffins have not been seen by humans in hundreds of years, have a reputation for being aggressive and also hate other animals, particularly winged horses – and dragons.
In an effort to keep the stallion, and Ben’s best friend, Firedrake the dragon, safe, the Greenblooms decide to keep their real goal from them and pretend that the solution is something else (even though their task might prove to be dangerous), so neither of them will try to get involved and put themselves in danger.
I really, really enjoyed this book. I loved the premise, and it was nice to be back with familiar characters again, along with some new ones. I also greatly appreciated the nods to David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, as well us others involved in conservation and environmentalism. The book is very much a nudge for children (and adults) to think about animals as creatures to be respected and treated with compassion, and to acknowledge the world around us and what we’re doing to it. I wouldn’t say it did it in a preaching way, however – because of the nature of the story, these messages are in it in a very organic way. There’s also a lot of detail in this book about different cultures, species of animal and places – the characters travel to Indonesia, and I was so completely immersed that I felt like I was experiencing it along with them. And of course, the book has a happy ending, too.
I think, overall, that what Cornelia Funke has woven together here is a wonderfully imaginative story, with a strong, yet non-intrusive message, that readers of ALL ages will appreciate and enjoy.