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Book Review: A Darkness of Dragons (Songs of Magic #1) by S. A. Patrick


This is a personal unsolicited review of a public library copy of S. A. Patrick, A Darkness of Dragons (Songs of Magic #1), Usborne, November 2018, ISBN 9781474945677 

What sorcery is this?

I first stumbled upon A Darkness of Dragons by S. A. Patrick through the Waterstones Book of the Month list for November 2018. The stunning cover illustration by artist George Ermos was part of an instant appeal to seek out this book. It’s a truly magical looking paperback and I’ve found a new fantasy illustrator to follow. A Darkness of Dragons went straight onto my list of books that my eleven-year-old dragon-mad daughter might want to read. She is an avid reader of Tui Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series.

We walked into our tiny local library on Christmas Eve, and in a serendipity that felt magical in itself, there, on full display on top the children’s shelf, was A Darkness of Dragons! As my daughter had a huge tower of books, I begged her to let me read this first while I had a gap between deadlines for reviews of other books…

Be still my heart, this is one of the most achingly engaging fantasy adventures I have recently read.

Although I am supposed to be purchasing fewer books, I’m afraid this is going straight to my must- purchase pile after reading it.

Sincerely this:- if you love tales of fantasy adventure, this book should be your next read.

I’m sorry that my review of this book is quite long, but I need to say all of this, even if it is just for me to capture the feeling of reading it for the first time. If you are short on time, don’t waste time reading my words, just go out and read this book now!

However, if you need convincing, I’m going to try and write clearly and sensibly…actually…nope… I’m not, this is going to come right from the heart…

Conjuring echoes

In A Darkness of Dragons, S. A. Patrick takes me back to the feeling I got when I began reading some of my most loved series. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. J K Rowling’s Harry Potter,  Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. Most recently, the same with Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. This story has a dark edge a bit like Alan Garner’s books. A spookiness of Robert Holdstock. A darkness of Susan Cooper. Within a few chapters A Darkness of Dragons earned a permanent place in my inner cache of imagined fantasy literary worlds that I can call on when doing mundane tasks like hanging washing. (I hope everyone has one of these inner caches, otherwise forget I just mentioned this!)

An epic imagined landscape

Just pines and mountains in Scotland
(or…is this resting on route to the Gemspar Mountain Range? on the edge of the Dragon Territories? or the Islands of the Eastern Seas?)

The story opens in the village of Patterfall, clad with pines, mountains, snow and forest. There is no map in the book, but there could be. (Maybe in Book #2??) The story traverses landscapes of mountains, forests, seas and vividly described vistas with names that remind me of imaginary childhood adventures, lying awake in Australia listening to the exotic names of the BBC shipping forecast at midnight on the radio and dreaming of adventures beyond my town. (Again, ignore this if it’s abnormal).  It’s difficult to describe the feeling of a new fantasy world that feels so very plausible and believable. The laws and ways things are, are unreal, but in a way that does not jar with possibility. It’s actually very hard to cast such a spell with an imagined world with so many characters this quickly, but S. A. Patrick does it. What really excites me is that it feels so very richly mythopoeic, even having its own language, Merisax. Patrick’s world of Patch Brightwater and his friends is instantly habitable, and yet it also has some incredibly biting edges too. I could feel the darkness creeping in chapter by chapter. This contributes to the absolute compulsion to carry this book everywhere with me so that I could snatch a read at any opportunity.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia (or the Dragon Wastes?)

Three friends on an adventure

Patch Brightwater is an instantly likeable, imperfect 13 year old. (Note: some descriptions say Patch is 12, but there are multiple specific references in the book to Patch being 13, the same age as his friend Wren). On the surface, his recent illegal acts make Patch a criminal. However, Patch’s compassion, acts of kindness and charity, truly challenge us to think about how the judgement of good and bad deeds are made. Patch’s friends, Barver the dracogriff (half dragon, half griffin) and Wren, a girl who is cursed by a sorcerer to live as a rat are inspiring, brave and wonderful characters. They are complex and believable as friends. I developed a soft-spot for Barver’s personality quirks. S. A. Patrick has created a believable half dragon, half griffin who interacts seamlessly with a diverse spectrum of primary and secondary characters. This isn’t easy writing territory! The dialogue emerges from diverse characters ranging from salt-of-the-earth personalities through to the cruel and deranged. We meet powerful and imposing law keepers, dragons, rats, sorcerers, witches, monks and more, all who feel so very genuine.

A dark spin on a terrifying folktale

At first, the idea of a retelling of the “fairy tale” of the Pied Piper of Hamelin didn’t immediately appeal to me. I thought I already knew how that story would go, because my own childhood had rather sugar-coated versions of this story. Although I love folklore, not knowing the depth of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story, I was a bit concerned that this might be tame tale territory. I urge you to let the title lead you. There is a terrible darkness in the original folklore of the Hamelin Piper, a German folk story dating back to around 1284. Various versions evolved, based on real events, twisting branches from the original story. S. A. Patrick has a gift in conjuring an ancient evil from the roots of the story. It will thrill young adults and grown-ups alike.

There be dragons…and music!

Another ancient piper .

Although Songs of Magic as a series will undoubtedly attract fans of dragon-based tales, there is another theme accompanying the fantasy. The magic of making music. S. A. Patrick’s ability to weave in the art of piping, whistling and playing music through Patch as a young piper, should pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever trembled because of a piece of music. Patch’s description of piping skills led my thoughts to the ghosts of my grandfather and those before him as traditional Scottish pipers. I remember my failed childhood attempts at trying to cast a single note on a bagpipe chanter, and then watching spellbound as my grandpa produced songs from the chanter, his fingers waving and moving as if conjuring magic. The passages describing Patch’s playing took be back to these childhood moments. For younger readers, Patch as a thirteen-year-old discovering his own music is so relevant for readers in this age group. Afer all, music is often the first time we can find a way to express the complexity of what we hold inside us, that words sometimes can’t muster.

Dragons at arm..chairs

The real magic

This is S. A. Patrick’s first novel for younger readers, but under his name as Seth Patrick, he has a series of horror for grown-ups (The Reviver trilogy) if you are so inclined.

I also had a moment of enlightenment on reading that Seth Patrick has a game programming and mathematics background. This makes a lot of sense! I can begin to understand where his power as a writer and scaffolder of imagined worlds emerges from. In A Darkness of Dragons, Patrick is beautifully demonstrating my belief that computer coding and computational thinking have elements transferable to creative writing. I wonder if this is the secret ingredient that I can’t quite explain as to why this imagined world works its enchantment so quickly. Patch’s world unfolds with a structural efficiency, a necessary underlying logic and a sequence needed to lay good strong foundations for a first-in-series fantasy novel. Yet, whilst staying true to the conventions and rules of a novel, there are still so many surprises, unexpected results and lingering questions for our minds to ponder. Although there is structure, there is space made for big hearts to feel things keenly, and amusing comments and asides to explain context so that everything feels naturally unfolding. There is a perfect tension of order and chaos, compiled with enough complexity to keep you turning pages.

Songs of Magic – the series

I truly can’t wait for Patch Brightwater’s next adventure with his friends. I hope some small snippet of my raving enthusiasm encourages you to read it and also purchase this novel to support an incredible author of young adult stories, S. A. Patrick.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in need of friendship, magic and courage, head to the Usborne website, there is a Song of Magic for recorder that you can listen to and learn to play.

S. A. Patrick, A Darkness of Dragons (Songs of Magic #1), Usborne, November 2018, ISBN 9781474945677 

And finally, just because reading the book conjured a song for me…

If this book was a song!

Book Review: Unpacking Harper Holt by Di Walker

You can read my full review of Unpacking Harper Holt on Reading Time  (Children’s Book Council of Australia)


“Unpacking Harper Holt follows high school student Harper, as she navigates a shifting sense of what normal life is.   For Harper, it’s normal to move into another new house, as her family frequently relocate due to her parents work.  Having recently moved to a suburb of coastal Melbourne, Harper’s pragmatic approach to finding her way around the neighbourhood is equalled by her approach to the almost predictable social challenges of starting yet another new school. Change and transience is part of life as usual for Harper.”

Read more Book Reviews on this site.

Book Review: The Happiness Quest by Richard Yaxley


“Dazzled by a cheery sunshine yellow cover, Yaxley’s tenderly observant prose quickly lands you in a pit of shadows, as fifteen year old Tillie Bassett tries to make sense of her inexplicable sadness. Set within suburban Brisbane, Tillie’s heart weighs heavily, feeling the world at a distance as she struggles to pass each day in the clutches of a lingering depression.”

Read the full review on Reading Time review site (Children’s Book Council of Australia)

Book Review: Blade of Shattered Hope (The 13th Reality #3) by James Dashner


“Dashner’s epic face-off in this ‘good kids versus evil grown up’ adventure has plenty of nightmarish mutant monsters and downright creepy scenarios faced by a likeable gang of young human characters.  The story builds into what becomes a terrifying page turner.”

Read the full review on Reading Time review site (Children’s Book Council of Australia)