Dragon Rider

by Cornelia Funke

Conditional Recommendation: A dragon, a brownie, and a boy set off on a quest to find the Rim of Heaven, a safe place for dragons to live, before humans invade their home or an ancient villain catches them.

Age: Middle Grade
Series: It was a standalone until 2018 when Funke published the companion novel, Dragon Rider: The Griffin’s Feather
Pages: 523
Published: 2005 (English), 1997 (German)

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

I have loved this book since first reading it as a teen and every time since. The story is told in a simple, straight-forward way and pulls off action without weighing it down with drama. It’s an enchanting adventure and you should read it for the friendships, the search for home and a place to belong, for the courage to do good and right for the ones we love, and for the characters’ loyalty in sticking with their friends even when circumstances are difficult and unpleasant. Read this book because it’s just good fun and, on a heavier note, read it for Twigleg’s redemptive story and all the salvation parallels.

Summary from the Publisher

With Ben and Sorrel on board, Firedrake sets out in search of the mythical place where dragons can live in peace forever. Along the way, the three friends encounter fantastic creatures, surprising courage—and one ruthless villain determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home.

Enduring Themes

The power of friendship and kindness is a constant theme throughout the book, but the bigger theme is belonging—Firedrake and Sorrel will soon be homeless, Ben is a homeless orphan, and Twigleg has been mistreated all his life in what he always thought was his home. Each one finds what they need in each other and they discover where and with whom they truly belong.

Goodness and Truth

This book shows a variety of friendships and relationships—not one is quite the same as another. There are many different kinds of friends we can have in this life and not one will look exactly like another because each person is unique and each combination of people is unique. So what does a good friend look like? Dragon Rider provides good material for discussion around this topic.

The transformation of Twigleg is a wonderful gem within this book. Twigleg lives a sad existence as a mistreated servant to the villain and it’s all he’s ever known—until he meets Ben. Ben is kind to him, defends him, cares for him, and Twigleg is baffled by such treatment, especially because he knows it’s undeserved. But even when the truth comes out, Ben, though disappointed, stands by Twigleg. Twigleg is transformed because of Ben’s kind love. He is freed from fear, from bondage, and given new life, hope, and a reason to live. Twigleg is just like an undeserving sinner receiving forgiveness, love, and eternal life from God who is good. There are many before-and-after-salvation parallels to be made from Twigleg’s story.

Memorable Characters

I love the characters in this book. Each has their own motivation and yet kindness and goodness abound in their relationships with one another. Ben is easy-going and kind-hearted, Sorrel is sour and complains a lot but cares greatly for Firedrake and Ben, Twigleg is intelligent and loyal. Also, all the other characters and creatures you meet along the way add spice to the story and each is a distinct character—there are no bores in this book!

Well-Conceived Plot

Cornelia Funke knows how to write a good story! This book has all the elements one could want in a fun adventure tale with magical creatures. There’s a quest, solving puzzles, unraveling mysteries from old stories and strange events, a dangerous villain hot on their tail, a traitor turned double agent, and a race against time to complete their mission. The story has interesting twists and at every turn, there’s a new challenge and a new character or magical creature. It feels like an old-fashioned fantasy adventure that you’d talk about around a campfire.

A Satisfying Ending

It’s the satisfying ending not of an epic battle one, but a quest completed. It’s like when Bilbo returns from his adventures with Gandalf and the dwarfs—a peaceful, content homecoming.

Fantasy Elements

Though the story takes place in the modern-day world, it portrays that magical creatures are living in hiding from humans and only a few, like the professor, actually believe they exist and are studying lore and seeking them out. The book is packed with magical creatures like dragons, Scottish brownies, talking rats, odd creatures created by an alchemist, enchanted ravens, elves (that more resemble fairies), mountain dwarfs, a djinn (genie), and more.

Recommendation Note

The only thing that stands out in my mind is Sorrel the brownie girl. She is Firedrake’s companion and her loyalty is admirable; however, she is sour, complains, swears (using the names of poisonous mushrooms), and can be rude. I found her entertaining and funny, but there you have it.

Where to Find this Book: Amazon* or your local library!

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