Mining Hope: A Review of The Dragon’s Playlist

The Dragon’s Playlist (2017)
Written by: Laura Bickle
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 219 (Kindle)
Publisher: Pronoun

Why I Chose It: 100% truthfully? It was free. I’ve been enjoying Bickle’s Petra Dee books, but I wasn’t so sure about this one. Part of it is that after 30 plus years of fantasy reading, I have dragon fatigue. But in the end, I figured why not?

The premise:

From the author of The Hallowed Ones and Nine of Stars comes a new novel blending the magical and the real…

“This is war,” the dragon said. And she believed him.

Di fled rural West Virginia to study music and pursue a bright future as a violinist. But when a mining accident nearly kills her father, she is summoned back home to support her family. Old ghosts and an old flame emerge from the past. When Di gets a job as a bookkeeper at the same mine where her father worked, she is drawn into a conflict pitting neighbor against neighbor as the mine plans an expansion to an untouched mountain.

If the mining company’s operation goes forward, there will be more at stake than livelihoods or the pollution of the land: Di has discovered a dragon lives deep within Sawtooth Mountain, and he is not happy with this encroachment upon his lair. When catastrophe strikes, Di must choose between her family’s best interests and protecting the dragon – the last surviving bit of magic in Di’s shrinking world.

In every fight, sides are chosen. And there can be no yearning for what has been left behind.

Some Spoilers Below


Discussion: That blurb up there is 100% accurate. And yet… it doesn’t convey some really important things about the book.

First thing you should know.  This is a YA. Di is summoned back after leaving her rural life, yes, but it’s after a single year at college. Having her that age, that naïve, turns out to be a great decision. A lot of her emotions are selfish ones. She’s not always sure of herself, or her place in the world around her — character traits that work well when the protagonist is on that cusp between teen and adult. Di and her mother have to renegotiate their relationship all over again. There’s a lot of learning Di has to do, and the biggest part of it is learning that sometimes there’s no one to tell her what decision to make. While I say Di has selfish emotions, that doesn’t mean her actions are selfish. She’s unhappy but still goes about trying to make the best of things. And she yearns, oh she yearns. Not for romance (though there is one), not even necessarily for the loss of her burgeoning career, but for something extraordinary to balance out all the grim adult reality.

Second thing you should know.  This story setting is nuanced. It’s set in a mining town. Her father’s been injured horribly in that mine, and her mother’s stuck between taking the potentially subpar medical treatment for him, or suing the company, at which point they won’t pay anything for his treatment until the case is won or lost. So, obviously, the mining company is the bad guy, right? Well, yes and no. Bickle makes it clear how needed these mining jobs are, even though the mines are mostly played out. Plus, the local miners are the ones who saved her father, and the supervisor is trying to help out as he can.

The protestors who want to protect the land are the good guys, right? Yes and no. Some of them are violent; some of them have good intentions, but are dangerously careless.

Di’s caught right in the middle. She hates the mine, because her father nearly died there. She goes to work for the mine, because… where else is there to work?

Third thing you should know. This dragon character is not wildly divergent from fantasy standard, but the way Bickle uses him is amazing. He’s equal parts intelligent and beast, and though he’s capable of compassion, he’s also not even remotely human. Honestly, this book reminded me, in tone, of the book Ring of Endless Light. Only with a dragon. A singular, sinister, nicely-realized dragon who makes contact with Di, and who becomes a dangerous sort of confidant. This is a dragon that reminds you the word awesome involves awe.

Fourth thing, and probably the thing that won me over the fastest.  The writing is evocative. I thought Bickle managed to get the terrible dramatic emotions of a teenager on the page without drowning us in words.

I didn’t live here anymore. Like a stranger, I rapped on the aluminum frame. The knock rattled into the back of the house.

Shadows moved inside. I swallowed hard as one approached. The door opened, and I was enveloped by that shadow that smelled like rosewater.

“You’re home,” my mother said.

I nodded against her shoulder, afraid to speak. My eyes burned. They’d burned and leaked a lot on the long, winding drive here, through sunlit hills and shady valleys. Those valleys seemed to suck up the molten sunshine, gathering darkness into their crevasses. In astronomy class, I’d learned about black holes, how not even light or sound could escape their terrible gravitational pull.

I understood. (Location 35, Kindle Edition)

 

Is it a perfect book?

There were things that didn’t quite work for me. Di makes a super-helpful friend who disappears out of the book after an act of violence, and… that’s it. No more friend, no follow-up. I feel like she might be sequel bait, but maybe not. There are loose threads, then there are plot frays.

There were other characters mentioned that I felt like should show up on the page — the mine’s geologist, for example — but never did. So they felt a little like a missed stitch.

I didn’t always like the relationship between her and her boyfriend. Sometimes it felt just…well, teenaged. Dramatic in ways that didn’t fit the general sober tones of the rest of the book. Especially the inevitable Big Misunderstanding ™.

I didn’t always think Di’s musical choices were as evocative as Bickle wanted them to be. Once I started thinking about the music, the setting of the book in time got blurry. When I began the book, I assumed it was modern day, but after the third 80s song, I wasn’t sure what era we were in. She learned the music from someone else, but was it their generation’s music? Her grandfather’s a Vietnam vet, but how old was he when he got drafted? Her favorite childhood glasses have Smurfs on them.

I started looking for modern-era things and didn’t find them: cell phones, computers, etc. Then again, the area is extremely cash poor, and the mountains play havoc with technology. But she had blue-dyed hair…. So I was never clear on when. In the end, it was a small irritant, easily overlooked. If you’re bothered by hazy time, then you’ve been warned.

In Conclusion: if you’re looking for a low-key, heavily real-world shaded fantasy YA, and you have a fondness for dragons…. You might want to check this one out.

8 Comments

  • Shara White July 19, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    Yeah, so this totally has my attention! I’ll be curious to see how the author handles the not really YA but not really adult mentality. It’s a tricky POV to pull off.

    Reply
    • Lane Robins July 20, 2017 at 8:26 am

      I thought she did really well with that. Di is brought up responsible, and she does all the responsible things, but she feels like a teen. And I really feel like there’s a lot of the questing about sensation–that who am I going to be as a person? Bickle writes characters really well.

      Reply
  • Weasel of Doom July 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you for an interesting review! I bought the book 🙂

    Reply
  • Tez Miller July 19, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    YA? A year into college would be New Adult.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 20, 2017 at 6:35 am

      The author herself lists the book as YA on her website. Not sure if “New Adult” is still a thing or not.

      Reply
      • Lane Robins July 20, 2017 at 8:24 am

        As far as I can tell, in my admittedly narrow sampling, NA seems to be applied primarily to romances. I haven’t seen the NA label attached to anything but. But yeah, if I had to label this, I’d probably put it in NA fantasy.

        Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier July 20, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    You had me at “violinist” and “dragon.” I will be buying this.

    Reply

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