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A few months ago, the author Paul Cude contacted me to review his two books: Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past (Book 1) and Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Chilling Revelation (Book 2). I took a look at the book blurb that he included and was super excited about the idea of an underground dragon society co-existing with modern human life on the surface.
Book blurb for Bentwhistle the Dragon in a Threat from the Past:
Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past is an adventure story children and adults alike will love, about the present day world in which dragons disguised as humans have infiltrated the human race at almost every level, to guide and protect them. Three young dragons in their human guises become caught up in an evil plot to steal a precious commodity, vital to the dragon community. How will the reluctant hero and his friends fare against an enemy of his race from far in the past?
Fascinating insights into the dragon world are interspersed throughout the book. Ever wondered how dragons travel below ground at almost the speed of sound? Or how they use magical mantras to transform their giant bodies into convincing human shapes?
In an action packed adventure that features both human and dragon team sports, you’ll get a dragon-like perspective on human social issues and insight into what to do if you meet a giant spider grinning at you when you’re wearing nothing but your smile! You’d be flamin’ mad to miss it.
The narration reveals a lot of insight into the daily life of dragons living on the surface. Many concepts introduced in this novel are unique in terms of the general portrayal of our favorite mythical lizards. Here, dragons can shift forms between human and dragons. Younger dragons grow up in nurseries in which they learn to shift between their forms. They have communal telepathic abilities that allow them to retrieve and read a daily newspaper in their minds, similar to the way we use Wi-Fi. I like the idea of a technologically advanced dragon society, and of course, there are older dragons who are more uncomfortable with surface life and think that humans still drive wagons and carriages. They even have their own sports culture, which is fascinating and the dynamics reminds me of Quidditch.
I love how well-developed and original the world is, but all the emphasis on world-building ultimately takes away from the plot and character development. The main thrust of the plot is the mystery of Mr. Mason's malicious presence in Peter Bentwhistle's workplace. Following a sudden death of a dragon (which is extremely rare in dragon society), Peter begins to notice a lot of strange things happening in his workplace, along with the introduction of Mason, a mysterious figure who seems to have a strong influence over Peter's normally-benign boss, Mr. Garrett. As a result of escalating suspicions about Mr. Mason's motives, Peter begins to investigate what Mason really wants...
Pacing is a big issue in this novel, mostly because there is so much world building that it slows down the plot, even though the mystery is quite intriguing. The world is clearly huge and complex, but I think it would be a lot better to condense the story so that it's driven more by plot or Peter's mission. There are many chapters about Peter's daily life before or after work, as well as several long anecdotes about Peter's past that, at most, have only tenuous connections to the main plot. About 40% into the book, the plot lost its momentum as it began to meander into daily life, games, and routines, and this continued until I was 80% finished with the novel. I found myself losing interest with the characters and the plot for the middle part of the story.
Ultimately, the story sacrifices plot, pacing, and character development in favor of world building. I love the world of dragons and their super-fast subways, but the characters don't grab my interest enough for me to continue reading in this series. The sense of urgency regarding Mason disappears in the middle (besides his odd appearances and insulting behavior towards Peter) and doesn't come back until towards the end, and so I had to struggle to finish the novel.