Verdict: JAKE & THE DRAGONS OF ASHEVILLE is original, and exciting, and moves at a reasonable pace. It is a fresh take on the well-explored dragon fantasy, and a twist at the end hints at additional adventures for Jake and his family.
Every kid dreams of having super powers or magic or even of being a long-lost prince/princess, but being the descendant of dragons was definitely not on 13-year-old Jake Winston’s radar. The discovery comes on the heels of his fire-fighter father’s death, and the reappearance of his long-absent grandfather, who also carries the gene. When Jake learns that the dragon myth he grew up hearing is real and is tied to his family, he finds himself pitted against a secret government agency who wants to destroy the dragons at any cost, and steal their power.
Jake and his sidekick, Arnie, are easy characters to like, and are extremely relatable. They have a great buddy camaraderie, and when Jake reveals his dragon heritage, his computer-wiz friend–shows no hesitation in helping Jake with his quest. Arnie is also responsible for the book’s more comical moments, and his skills play an important role in their efforts to thwart the government agent.
The female characters are not as well drawn, and feel flat and clichéd. Amanda lacks any substance beyond being the requisite mean-girl, and her persistent efforts to throw herself at Jake feels out-of-place in a story for kids of this age. On the opposite spectrum is Carrie, who ends up helping the boys, but she feels inserted and unnecessary. Too many secondary adult characters take the focus off of the central action, and at times, makes the story difficult to follow.
The author also seems to be unclear of who his target audience is. While a minor amount of violence is acceptable in middle-grade, the violence goes a bit beyond this level. The adults also use language that is too difficult for the average reader, and some off-color language that the author would have been better advised to omit.
Despite these flaws, the story is original, and exciting, and moves at a reasonable pace. It is a fresh take on the well-explored dragon fantasy, and a twist at the end hints at additional adventures for Jake and his family.
~Rachel Seigel for IndieReader