Wendell has it rough. He’s a skinny, nerdy teen surrounded by beefy, hyper-masculine types, like his well-meaning stepfather, Ted, or the bullies from school. Trying to prove himself on their terms is hard. When he attempts to learn the workings of Ted’s beloved motorcycle, he messes up big time. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when he accepts a dare from a bully.
His dare – taking a flyer from the abandoned Renaissance Fair grounds in the woods – should be a piece of cake. After all, Wendell doesn’t really believe the place is haunted. He expects it will be creepy since it’s out in the middle of the deep forest, but he definitely doesn’t expect to meet Sir Habersham, a man who claims he’s a knight. Is Sir Habersham a crazy relic of the Fair that used to be here? He can’t be a real knight, can he? Especially since his other claim is that a dragon is lurking out there in the woods . . .
Wendell’s harshest critic is himself. He feels like a failure because he’s struggling against his own nature. It’s not that Wendell can’t handle the motorcycle or the dare – we see that he can, given the right reasons. He’s a compassionate and imaginative person, and when he channels that instead of trying to be macho or to impress people, he’s more than a match for the challenges of his life. This makes for an uplifting story as Wendell realizes that he doesn’t have to be someone else – the person he is now is good enough for the people who matter, including himself.
Teens and older readers may best be able to sympathize with Wendell, who is very much a teenager. He and the bullies engage in verbal sparring that’s realistic for their age, with some mild swearing and comments about Wendell’s mother. There’s also a humorous scene in which Wendell discovers that some of his fantasy RPG books have suggestive illustrations. (The “suggestive” illustration actually shown is laughably tame.) Little serious violence is shown, though it’s sometimes implied.
The main story of this book is rather short, only occupying three-quarters of the book’s 119 pages. The rest comprises five short stories, including one that expands on Ted’s background and one that shows how Wendell became interested in the fantasy role-playing game he likes. A pin-up gallery and an annotated collection of concept art round out the book. Also worth mentioning is the heartfelt, in-depth introduction by Sean Murphy, a good friend of the author, explaining how The Reason for Dragons came to be.
The artwork is gorgeous. It’s colorful and detailed with vivid scenery surrounding characters that are full of personality. Wendell, Ted, Sir Habersham, and the others have more than a hint of caricature about them, but they become real, deep characters over the course of the book. The art takes on different styles for the short stories at the end, each well-suited to the tone of the piece: Ted’s wartime backstory appears in a smudgy black-and-white style fit for the chaos and darkness of war, while a comedic Renaissance Faire tale is much more cartoonish.
The Reason for Dragons is a quick read that nonetheless manages to develop multidimensional, sympathetic characters. An unconventional coming-of-age story, it’s a good one to hand to dreamers and fantasy fans.