Two 16-year-olds cross between two worlds and search for dragon eggs in this debut novel.
When Sarah was 8 she befriended Mrs. Carter, an elderly lady who told her stories of a far-off land. Now 16 and bequeathed the woman’s watch, Sarah finds herself in Ingraham—that same magical place with its medieval castle and swooping dragoons (young dragons who remain in the human realm). Sarah and her best friend, Tom, go there when they sleep. Guided by the watch, they enjoy double lives: schoolchildren in one world, a serving girl and a prince in the other; asleep in one, in the other always waking to a new day. The people of Ingraham have a special relationship with their dragoons, and more than anything else, Sarah yearns to become a dragoon guard. Her conviction impresses Tom (“He hears a passion in her voice and sees her face and eyes light up as he has never seen before. Prince Thomas has throughout the years seen her want things, like her Mustang or a new CD that she just had to have, but this excitement is different now”). To have a chance, she must make it through the Quest Games, followed by training and then a perilous rite of passage—and she must escape the unwanted advances of a brazen sexual bully. Jewell writes as if caught between a desire to indulge her imagination and the need to assuage fantasy expectations. The class barrier between Sarah and Tom is reversed in Ingraham but more or less passed over; likewise, the changing of their names to Sara and Thomas, which, in a nice, subtle touch, begins to bleed through and blur between worlds. This is where the story shows potential, yet for the most part, the author sticks with the fantasy default settings (albeit garnished with dragoons and flying boars). Such familiarity may appeal to some readers, but although Jewell writes crisply in the present tense, she brings neither portent nor urgency to the Quest Games or the mission itself—or even to the threat of sexual assault. Sarah in particular is just too passive a character, and she and Tom receive too much support against not enough peril. Theirs is the journey of friends who are going through the motions, not living and breathing an epic adventure.
A safe, if mostly undemanding, climb to the lower slopes of high fantasy.