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Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt

  • Winner of the 2001 Moose Jaw Young Reader's Choice Award

  • Shortlisted for the 2001 Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award

  • Shortlisted for the Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award 2000

  • Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice 1998/99

  • One of the Best Books of 1999, Resource Links Magazine


The first book in the Taun Series

We meet him as a nameless stable boy. His only friend is Catryn, the servant girl, and even she doesn’t know who he truly is. He is Dahl, the King of Taun, a once-beautiful land now on the brink of destruction. Hidden on earth since his birth, Dahl knows that the Usurper has stolen his rightful place on the throne of Taun and that he must someday rescue his homeland. But when the time comes, Dahl is plagued by doubt: Can he do it? Does he have the courage to fight the Usurper? And what about Catryn who, despite his warnings, has slipped through time and space to be with him?

This is a fantasy about good and evil, but with a twist.

HarperTrophy Canada, 1997 ISBN 978-1-55468-291-11


Canadian Book Review Annual, 1998

“Containing all the requisite literary ingredients of high fantasy, but lacking its usual protracted length, Dragonfire would serve as an excellent introduction to the genre for readers in grades 4 to 8. Saved from death at birth by his Protector and spirited to the temporary safety of another world, Dahl, now almost 17 and the rightful King of Taun, is brought back to his land to wrest control, seemingly singlehandedly, from the evil Usurper who has reduced Taun’s people to slaves. Dahl, a most reluctant and doubt-filled hero, is joined on his quest by Catryn Ethelrue, a young woman from his exile period, who accidentally gets ‘carried’ into Taun. As required by the genre, Dahl receives assistance from a variety of ‘magical’ figures, including the aforementioned Protector, a shape-shifter; the trio of Elders, who equip Dahl with his father’s sword; a horse, Dragonfire, which sprouts wings and helps him defeat a fire-breathing dragon; and the Sele, short, human-like creatures, who serve as Dahl’s guide. High fantasy demands that the hero confront evil in a climactic, winner-take-all battle, and Bradford provides the necessary conflict, but with a surprise twist which will leave readers eager to discuss the book’s theme. Though the various plot threads are tied up at Dragonfire’s conclusion, the uncertain futures of the central characters hint at a possible sequel.”


Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson,
Children’s and Young Adult Literature Professor, University of Manitoba

Quill & Quire, December 1997
Starred Review

“Karleen Bradford’s latest novel draws upon medieval cosmology, Jungian psychology, and classic adventure-suspense to produce an intelligent and entertaining fantasy for young readers. The hero of this quest romance is 17-year-old Dahl, an orphan who has lived as a stable-boy for most of his life but harbours a secret, nobler identity. The heroine is Catryn, who is crucial to Dahl’s quest, not as the traditional damsel in distress but as his helper and psychological counterpart. Like Dahl, Catryn is an orphan with a partially concealed past, and her temperament complements his: while she needs his carefulness to temper her impetuosity, he needs her choleric energy to combat his inhibitions and fulfill his destiny. In addition to providing a feminist twist to the traditional journey of the hero, Catryn updates Dahl’s fate-centred cosmology by insisting upon his power to choose his actions.

“The action in this novel is enough in itself to sustain the interest of readers. However, what really distinguishes this book is its theme--or more precisely, the coalescence of its structure and theme. The structure is based on parallel worlds and binary sets of characters (Dahl and Catryn, and Dahl and the Usurper) representing different facets of the hero’s psyche. In keeping with tradition, the hero’s goal is individuation, but here the process is divided into two stages that develop the theme of self-acceptance. In the first stage, Dahl learns to acknowledge his fear and to act in spite of it. The second stage demands a more difficult acceptance: Dahl must embrace his shadow side, the evil that is as essential to his identity as the good. How the shadow is to be given its due in practical, behavioural terms remains unclear, but this problem is part of what makes Dragonfire thought-provoking.

“Bradford, an Ontario writer with 14 children’s novels to her name, writes with vigour and exactitude. The dialogue in this novel sounds stilted at times because of syntactical anomalies that may be intended to suggest the rhythms of Middle English. However, there are more successful reminders of the time setting in the book. For instance, the vocabularly, which is remarkable for its range and quality, creates a sense of the medieval grotesque. Even if psycho-allegorical models of good and evil don’t captivate all young readers, the sensory evocation in such phrases as ‘a miasma of human and animal odours’ and ‘the obscene touch of slimy fur’ probably will.”

Reviewed by Bridget Donald

City Parent, April 1998

“Karleen Bradford, author of 14 YA novels, many of them historical fiction, moves confidently into high fantasy with Dragonfire. Dahl, at 17, has spent his life as the foster child of an abusive innkeeper, his only friend a mangy dog. But there is some hidden secret about Dahl. Catryn, the kitchen maid, has always sensed this and when a menacing stranger appears at the inn asking pointed questions, she hastens to warn Dahl and find him a hiding place.

“The stranger’s visit precipitates flight, not just away from the inn, but through a tear in time and space. As Dahl steps into the parallel universe of Taun, Catryn steps after him. There she learns that Dahl, the rightful king of Taun, has been hidden in time to protect him from the Usurper who has brought terror and despair to the inhabitants of Taun.

“Now, guided by the Protector, a shapeshifter who has taken the form of a dog to guard his young protegé, Dahl must learn the skills necessary to wrest his inheritance from a foe who can invade his very mind. Bradford uses the conventions of high fantasy well to create a fast-paced, intriguing adventure. But, like all good fantasies, this story is also an allegory for the human condition; even as Dahl grows more confident of his powers, he meets the dark side of his own personality and comes to realize that the dragon inside is more dangerous than the ones he can see.”

Reviewed by Barbara Greenwood


The snow had dusted white the rooftops of the tall, narrow, jammed-together houses, but underfoot, on the cobblestones, it was already brown and slimy with slush. The boy shivered. The straw pallet upon which he lay was rimed with ice; the thin woolen covering, pockmarked with holes, woefully insufficient to stave off the cold. From somewhere close at hand came the crowing of a cock. It was time to be up and fetching water for the inn, but he burrowed farther in and savored a last few moments of rest. Of peace.

It was almost time now, the Protector had said. But, muster his courage as he might, the words filled the boy with dread. He wasn’t ready.

A dog barked, a man cursed, and the first wagon of the day clattered into the stable yard. It was not possible to put off the inevitable any longer. He threw back the flimsy covering and unfolded himself from his pallet. As he stretched, his head brushed the low stable roof; the color and matted dirtiness of his hair almost matched the thatch itself. Every movement was slow and reluctant, but, as he rubbed at his half-closed eyes, there was a glint of bright, almost impossible blue.

The ragged breeches and shirt he slept in were all the clothes he owned. He made an attempt to straighten them and put himself in some kind of order, then stumbled out into the dawn. The dog was waiting for him, panting, as if it had spent the night hunting. A huge, rangy brown beast, it inspired fear in everyone and served to protect the boy well. The boy started to speak to it, but stopped as a low growl issued forth from deep within its chest. The hackles along the animal’s back rose.

A dark shape stood beside the pump in the yard. The boy felt his own skin prickle. There was something strange about the form. It looked human, but it wavered--seemed almost to lack substance. Without further warning, the dog attacked. But, as the animal leaped for the stranger’s throat, the figure disappeared. For a moment there was a blackness greater than that surrounding the spot where it had stood, then—nothing...