Review: Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms
Extent: 275 pages
This epic novel, first in the Land of Dragor series, is aimed primarily at eight to twelve year-olds but with appeal for all ages transports the reader to the magical Land of Dragor, where seven dragon clans live hidden from man. Their great war is over and the dragons live peacefully among the smoking mud pools and around The Fire Which Must Never Go Out, but the terrible years when they were enslaved by humans have left a lasting scar and they are told they can never soar above the mountains and leave their safe haven to explore the outside world. There is unease in the air of their mist-filled valley, and the coming of a strange egg heralds a new era. Unlike the normal delicate lilac, this shell is multi-coloured like the contents of a treasure chest. The newborn hatchling is called Yoshiko, but he is immediately treated with suspicion by the elders, and is lucky to survive. The last time a coloured egg was laid, legendary warrior leader Surion was born from a red shell, and with his gift of fire the dragons went to battle with the humans. Will Yoshiko bring a blessing to the clans, or a curse? Could Dragor be about to meet its saviour, or its destroyer?
Chameleon-like Yoshiko is bullied and tormented as he grows up, taunted at fire school as he struggles to produce a jet of flame. Desperate to hide his colour changes, he flees from school one day and finds himself on the fabled mountain of Cattlewick Cave, home to the mysterious and reclusive elder Guya. This chance meeting changes Yoshiko’s life, and as he develops from hatchling to youngling, he is inspired to spread his wings and venture outside Dragor. He returns with magic gifts – but only time will tell if they heal or harm Dragor.
Sometimes you read a book that is like a big mug of hot chocolate – it’s very satisfying and warms you all the way through – and sometimes those books have some very interesting sprinkles you’ve never seen before and some uniquely coloured marshmallows you’ve never tasted before. That’s how I would describe Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms in a nutshell – or should I say a mug?
Dragons almost always take on the role of sidekick in a fantasy story and are often portrayed either as unruly pets or ethereal creatures. It is just wonderful to find a story where dragons are the main characters and humans are the mythical race. The Land of Dragor is a beautiful place to escape to, rich in detail, legend, myths and lore which is impossible not to get wound up in. In the same breath, Dragor also shares a lot of similarities to the human world: young dragons must attend school and undergo the same challenges that any human child might. I think this is what I find so captivating, Julia Suzuki has created a world of fantasy with an original mythology but has kept it grounded and relevant to children.
Yoshiko is a fantastic hero character, just like any child he has his fair share of flaws when he begins his journey – he’s self-conscious, self-pitying and has unusual physical attributes, all of which open him up to bullying from the spiteful Igorr. But as the story unfolds, so does Yoshiko’s character. His hard work and determination improve his abilities and confidence, and bring out the courage that was hiding inside him. Yoshiko is a wonderful role model and the story is peppered with important messages for children and, as an adult who loves a good story, I certainly appreciated them too! The book is packed with other well-formed and engaging characters from the overgrown bully Gandar and his terrorised but equally nasty son, Igorr, to the wise old recluse, Guya, who is definitely my favourite character. Everyone you will find in life, you will find within the pages of Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms and I think that is what is at least partly at the heart of this book: it’s a fantastic exploration of character. Each of the seven dragon clans have different character traits and flaws but this story is about finding the cure for those flaws and overcoming them. It’s about identifying why a character behaves the way they do and not judging them based on their flaws but based on what they have been through and what they have achieved, looking at what they can do rather than what they can’t.
Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms is simply a wonderful story filled with subtly delivered lessons on life which you really cannot stop learning. That’s why, if this were a film, I would give it a U certificate because it is meant for everyone and has something to give to everyone who reads it, whatever your age. I have been thoroughly charmed and fallen in love with Yoshiko and the Land of Dragor and I cannot wait for the next book – especially if it is in the same beautiful hardback format as the first!