Review Blog

Aug 21 2019

The secret dragon by Ed Clarke

cover image

Puffin, 2019. ISBN: 9780241360514. 239p.
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy. If life is a paradox, then The Secret Dragon is duplicitous to its core. Mari wants to be a palaeontologist like her father, who was tragically struck by lightning when she was a toddler. Her mother, Rhian, is not academically minded but invested in the living animals on their farm. Mari finds the dragon egg after the new vet's son, Dylan, sets off a landslide near her dig on the cliffs. Inside, is the stuff of folklore, a living red Gwiber or Wyvern, which Mari christens 'Gwebe'. The Gwiber is also conflicted - affectionate and troublesome. Mari thinks about making her father proud and naming her momentous find in his honour - Pterodactyl Jonathani. She deceives her mother and wags school in order to discuss the discovery with Professor Griff Griffiths, a palaeontologist working in children's television.
With Dylan as her assistant, Mari learns to connect to her own mammalian wisdom. Yet paradoxically, it is Dylan who is taken in by Ffion's charms, allowing their classmate to steal Gwebe from Dylan's shed. Tension between mum and daughter mounts when Dylan's dad, Gareth asks her mum out on a date. Rhian feels 6 years is long enough for Mari to get used to the idea of replacing her father. But, more lies surface . . .
The book captures the inevitable tension between different types of people and their motivations. Professor Griff turns out to be other than he seems and Dylan helps Mari to choose between the living dragon or her prospective career. When Mari sneers that being popular means both wanting to be like everyone else before being collectively mean to someone different, she echoes the nuances of the human paradox in Clarke's book. This is a novel ideal for group study. It ably demonstrates that very little is what it seems.
Ed Clarke is a film and TV producer versed in adult drama, but we eagerly await his next children's adventure, The Order of the Dragon, due in 2020. The 10 fossil facts appended, are mostly devoted to Clarke's inspiration, Mary Anning - the first person to find a 'sea dragon'(Plesiosaurus) skeleton. It was so strange at the time, it was thought to be fake. You see, in the best novels, the circle closes for the reader's plenitude.
Deborah Robins

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