“Book Review: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book 6: Dragon Sisters”
Reviewed by Joe Walters
A historical fantasy novel with high stakes, tough obstacles, and the help of a few unlikely friends
[This is Independent Book Review’s third review in the Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy series. Check out more about book four here and book five here.]
Set in late 1800s Japan, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series continues with The Dragon Sisters, the sixth book in this historical fantasy setting. As books four and five successfully immerse readers into Japanese culture, this book transcends the immersion to tell a harrowing story of overcoming the odds and saving the lives of people (or dragons) readers care deeply about.
A few different storylines weave through this one, and each provides its own unique twist. First, Renko (a dragon who can shift into a European-looking girl) is doing everything she can to live a normal dragon life, meaning she’s trying to stay away from her human side. Since she doesn’t feel like she’s the same as the humans around here, she encounters her own personal difficulties and even starts getting a little bit more attitude than she’s had in the earlier books. Meanwhile, all those who care about her are trying to keep her happy and help her realize that she is who she is, no matter how different she looks from them.
Renko’s half-sister Otohime (also a shapeshifting dragon) experiences her own loneliness when her step-mother speaks with her about potentially finding a consort to spend her life with. This novel gives us far more into Otohime’s personality and helps us ramp up for the climax which will impact both dragon sisters in a way that no book has before it.
First and foremost, I really enjoyed the new twists to the characters in this book. While in the previous novels the kids seem to transcend immaturity, this one embraces their changes and indicates that the young characters are thinking for themselves—even if it is in immature ways. They must grow as humans in order to become the best they can be, and author Claire Youmans helps remind us that the only way for them to feel real is to go through these stages just like we do.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of The Dragon Sisters also carries the most weight. Just as a sixth book should, this novel has an explosive climax that introduces sky-high stakes and puts our characters in a situation that could change their lives forever—unless they put all of their minds together to figure out how to save the dragon sisters. The climax hits at a later point in the novel, but once it comes, it’s about as much of a page-turner as you could ask for.
While the climax does hit the exact right chord, this book does move considerably slower than the last few. For the first half of the book, readers receive factual information about trends and beliefs in the Meiji era without enough storytelling to keep us engaged and turning pages. It’s clear from the outset that Youmans has done her research, but it might actually feel like she put too much of an emphasis on it instead of telling the fantastical story in this one.
However, The Dragon Sisters is still a well-written and high-stakes novel filled with the characters we’ve grown to love. If you’re in the mood for some culture-rich historical fantasy and don’t mind the historical nonfiction thrown in there, this novel could really hit the spot for you.
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