There’s no shortage of great dragon stories in middle-grade fiction – humans fighting dragons, humans saving dragons, dragons savings humans. But in Ember and the Ice Dragons, Heather Fawcett, known for her popular Even the Darkest Stars series, gives the genre a fresh spin: protagonist Ember St. George is a dragon, (mostly) transformed into a human girl by her adoptive father, Lionel St. George, a famous Stormancer (a certain type of magician who draws power from storms). The trouble is that the humanizing spell, like so many of Lionel’s, isn’t exactly stable, and Ember has to deal with invisible wings and a problematic habit of bursting into flames when exposed to sunlight.
Fawcett’s cheeky choice for Ember’s surname (drawn from the legend in which St. George tames and slays a fearsome dragon) signals plenty of fun to come. From an enchanted doorknob to perhaps the most realistic talking cat ever written, the characters populating Ember’s world are wonderfully quirky and clever.
Ember decides that the only solution to her fire problem is to head to Antarctica in the winter, the least sunny place she can think of. With her lack of social skills and the Antarctic setting, Ember and the Ice Dragons often resembles, with its buckets of charm, a kind of younger, fantastical Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
Antarctica holds many not-to-be-missed adventures for Ember: new friends, a enigmatic young prince, and a dragon hunt that Ember is determined to stop at any cost. The hunt, its dangers, and the tests it holds for Ember and her new friends make up the meat of the story. There’s a bit of a pacing lag in the hunt’s second half, but Fawcett regains the momentum as the climax approaches, including a surprising reveal about one of Ember’s friends and an epic ice city where dragons trade in riddles.
The book enthusiastically and effortlessly sets up a series without sacrificing the action in this first volume. It even teases other types of dragons that will undoubtedly appear down the line, including air, water, and darkness dragons. (Ember herself is a fire dragon, while the Antarctic beasts constitute the titular ice creatures.) A perfect choice for especially creative young readers, Fawcett’s new book is as irresistibly charming and unconventional as its heroine.