The plot in Short: It’s Britain in the 14th century. The last of the dragons was killed almost a generation ago. So how could an entire village be burnt to the ground, all its occupants killed in a night? Young Jude survives, homeless, friendless and terrified.
He meets tiny, fierce Jing-wei, crippled by her bound feet and trapped in the life of the freak in a travelling show. Jude is torn by guilt and fear, but Jing-Wei is more than willing to force him to turn and face his past, to hunt the last dragon.
What I thought: This is a wonderful book. I’m a sucker for dragon books as it is, and this one is lovely.
Its a real story teller’s book. It is framed as the story that Jude tells a monk scribe, and every chapter starts and ends with his remarks to the monk – and gradually we learn more about Jude and how he came to be telling this story. Jude is an unusual character. He is a big boy, but a coward if you like. Because he is telling the story himself it is as though you cannot ever see him clearly “from the outside”. His sweet, gentle nature is gradually revealed through his interactions with the people around him.
Jing-Wei is his opposite. She is delicate and graceful, a small girl – but hard as nails and fierce. She is crippled by her bound feet, but has enough will power for both of them.
And then there is the dragon.
Dragons are interesting creatures. They play many roles, and usually have a strong metaphorical presence. They are often a symbol of the unknowable, or of the corruption of power or of greed. For me, the dragon in this book was a way for Sherryl Jordan to write about the crippling influence of fear. Fear that feeds on itself and grows in the imagination while you refuse to face its source. The heart of this story is the act of looking clearly at that which one fears, and so to rob it of its power.
The dragon, faced, is no longer a monster, but retains its mystery.
The dragon in this story is more like a Chinese dragon than a European one. It is a swift moving creature of air and fire, not a clanking beast. Here is Jude, watching the dragon attack, the descriptions remind me of a paper lantern:
“I watched it descend, and it seemed that all time stopped, transfixed with the beast that drifted, deathly slow, between earth and heaven. I was aware of the way its belly glowed brighter and then faded as it breathed, and of the beauty of the stars beyond; was aware of the wild, clean coldness of the wind, and the warmth of Jing-Wei’s hand upon my arm.”
The Hunting of the Last Dragon is a short book, just over 200 pages. Its a sad story in some ways, but light also, an unexpectedly sweet love story. There are few books that have satisfying dragons. The Wizard of Earthsea is one, and The Hobbit, of course. Here is another.