What I like best about Redheart are its misfit characters. There’s Kallon the dragon, who turned his back years ago on his own kind as well as humans, after his father was killed by a human. Kallon mopes around his cave, waiting to die, except when foraging for food. Then there’s the maiden Riza, who’s turned her back on her family and town because she doesn’t think like everyone else. After her fiancee cautions she’ll get “a burnin’ platform to stand on” if she keeps asking dangerous questions like whether the sky is just the beginning of the world instead of the end, she packs her bags and leaves. Finally, there’s Jastin, who hasn’t turned his back on anyone but tries to use both humans and dragons for his own revenge. One day they all meet and so begins Redheart, a great fantasy adventure by Jackie Gamber.
The relationships between these characters is another aspect that works well. At the forefront is the one between Kallon and Riza, whom Kallon rescues. A couple of years ago I tried to write a fantasy about the first encounter that a teenage girl had with a fairy in her backyard. Capturing the wonder and surprise of it all proved my biggest challenge. Next to that, I struggled most with showing how a friendship could even develop between two different species—especially two which were enemies. Gamber faces and quite successfully overcomes these obstacles. Riza’s relief at being rescued soon turns to shock upon realizing her savior was a dragon. Kallon himself wavers between regretting his choice to get involved and hoping Riza keep him company. For several chapters, their visits are similar to that feeling one has when picking at a scab to see if the skin below has healed, in being sporadic and cautious. Eventually though, their true feelings emerge and solidify. A second relationship develops about the same time between Riza and Jastin, a human who proves gentler and more protective than her earlier attackers. Jastin sets her up with a job as a cook at a local tavern. One thing leads to another and soon Jastin is courting Riza. Yet as in real life, friends sometimes let each other down and even betray one another. Will it be the dragon Kallon or the human Jastin who betrays Riza just when she’s beginning to feel safe again? And which one will need to change their ways the most if Riza is to be saved? While I won’t share those answers, I will tell you that I appreciated that Gamber didn’t make any of her main characters all good or all bad. Both Kallon and Jastin actually do forge true friendships with Riza, but the prejudice of one endangers them all.
Another fabulous feature of Redheart is Gamber’s light-hearted touch. Book-lovers, upon discovering I like fantasy, often offer me adult examples, few of which I finish because I find their hardcore treatment of the fantasy realm to be dull. In contrast, Gamber had me sold on Redheart by the end of the first chapter. Kallon had frightened off Riza’s attackers, which is easy enough for a dragon to do, but less easy is deciding what to do with her. He puts his claw to his cheek and then he mumbles “Going to regret this” flying her back to his cave. I love his insecurity! In the second chapter, Gamber switches to Riza’s perspective. Kallon leaves to fetch her a drink, but Riza is suspicious about his motives. After all, he’s a dragon. At the same time, Kallon had saved her. “Maybe it brought her back as some sort of pet. Pet Riza. She giggled, imagining herself romping on all fours, chasing a stick thrown by a great, curled dragon paw.” For those of you who don’t appreciate cute, Gamber’s humor also shows up in sarcasm. Consider the scene where Kallon meets up with his wizard friend Orman. The two are talking about how things used to be when the Redhearts (Kallon’s family) were in power. Kallon tells Orman, “The Reds are dead.” When Orman rebuts with a disagreeable observation, Kallon blows a puff of breath that causes Orman to stumble. Orman mutters, “Still got plenty of breath for a dead dragon.” Most of Redheart’s humor however arises from Gamber’s style. Riza whispers to Kallon, “Riza, that’s my name, in case you were wondering.” Kallon “must not have been wondering, because he didn’t react.”
There’s so much in Redheart that makes me smile, I almost hate to mention its flaws. For example, although I appreciated the major characters, I can’t say the same for all the minor characters. Kallon’s wizard friend Orman initially reminds me of the silly monkey in The Lion King, who helps Simba realize that he must reclaim his kingship. Both the wizard and monkey grow on me, but they also seem more like comic relief than real characters. I never did understand the significance of Layce Phelcher, who seemed ridiculous speaking to Jastin from within his horse. Then there’s the descriptions. For the most part Gamber does a good job of settin the lay of the land or evoking atmosphere, but at times his descriptions are overwritten: “He nodded toward the wispy half-breed Blue standing in as a recorder, who dipped his claw into red ink….” Last—and this is admittedly personal preference—I didn’t care for the constantly switching viewpoints. Sometimes we’re following Kallon, other times Riza, then we switch to Jastin, and finally we even hear the perspective of the dragon council. The change in view only happens with a new chapter, but I still don’t care for this literary technique. I like to get inside the head of one character and stay there; but I realize many readers will be more accepting than me on this point. And so really what flaws I found were minimal.
Redheart is promoted as being about friendship, which is a sure sell. In writing about two species who have a tenuous alliance, Gamber is also able to subtly tackle the issue of prejudice. Redheart is about something else too, which its young adult target audience should appreciate, and that is discovering one’s own destiny. Riza is expected to be like everyone else. Kallon is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Both resist those pressures and in doing so find a better path. Seventh Star Press has already promised to send me the next book in the Leland Dragon Series. You can trust I’ll be back with a review!
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.