Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760290023
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Wendy Orr has woven her passion for the mysteries of the Bronze Age centred around the Mediterranean islands into a wonderful mythical fantasy that links known history and its mythical beliefs and archaeological stories into a lyrical and heart-wrenching narrative.
In this old and mythical world, gods have power that invoke worship, sacrifice and honour; power that can sing and manipulate wild animals, and upset the natural world and power that drives communities to order their lives in fear and reverence in order to fend off disaster. The central character Aissa is born with features that defy the god-like need for perfection of her High Priestess mother. She is cruelly damaged, disowned and discarded, and yet survives. Her fate seems to defy the goddess that 'rules' the island of her birth and yet she is hidden and loved, until another disaster leaves her as the mute, cruelly targeted unlucky slave-girl called 'No-Name' that no-one values. The constant emotional attacks and the ignoble role she plays in society are so cruel that it is easy to believe that she has wronged the gods in some way. An unexpected role to pay tribute to the Bull King from a neighbouring island looms as a possible way for her to rise above her lowly and unlucky position . . . or face death as a permanent escape from her misery. The pain and suffering she experiences and the small glimpses of hope that she clings to with incredible humility (despite the rise of hidden goddess-inspired powers) are mixed with an immensely strong resilience and spirit. The effect is awe-inspiring!
Orr has written this with deft mastery, mingling prose poetry style sections with more standard narrative in a beautiful tapestry. It is powerful and compelling reading, even though the mythology and magic of these times is likely to be unknown to many young readers. Fantasy lovers will engage with the unusual world, and those who have a heart for the down-trodden and bullied in contemporary culture will see the enormous strength of character of Aissa despite her circumstances. This is definitely not like Orr's Nim's Island stories or her teen drama Peeling the Onion, but it is certainly to be recommended for those who might enjoy a different kind of lyrical fantasy adventure.