I had the opportunity to read Drake and the Fliers without knowing anything about it, and that was the surprise, the real treat. The Fourth Descendant author Allison Maruska’s fearless rendering of a post-apocalyptic fantasy about a teenage boy braving a strange new world is original and compelling. Maruska trims the fat in this raw urban fantasy, giving virtually no backstory, and it works. She drops you smack dab in the middle of this dystopian world and you’re never able to guess the direction the story will go, which is as it should be. The descriptions and imagery paste you on the page. As you fly with Drake you can see, “The ghost of the city came into view. The bridges stood empty, though the Golden Gate’s towers poked out of the fog blanketing the bay.”
It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Drake shape shifts into a dragon early on in the story because that’s not what the story is about, but make no mistake the transformation is jarring, well-written, and sucks you right in. We experience this through Drake’s mind and a bond occurs between character and reader that never breaks. We see it. We feel it. Drake and the Fliers is like a literary Pixar on Steroids.
I love the names, Talon, Sonar, Scopes, Phoenix, and my favorite, Gray. You have to guess what type of fliers they are by their names because you won’t find out here. I know, read the book. Maruska is a master of combining the elements of action, dialog, and description giving the story a rich cinematic flair, and she develops the character of our protagonist Drake through both inner-dialog, and physical actions. Show does a wonderful job of showing over telling. Thematically the story starts fairly bleak but gradually darkens even more, both in the lives of the teenagers who are left to repopulate this unfortunate world (the decisions they are forced to make) and the unkempt world itself.
Maruska also addresses multiculturalism, subtly, without beating us over the head with the concept, through character description of major and minor characters and with lines like, “I’m pretty sure Jesus was Middle Eastern” a no-brainer, but wonderfully and aptly delivered in the context of the story, which I think is important in today’s climate.
Drake and the Fliers is stunning in its prose and courageous in its themes. It is a mesmerizing, coming of age journey of forgiveness and redemption that tackles timely and relevant issues and is highly recommended. Fire in the hole!
This guest review was contributed by John Winston. A native Detroiter and public school educator, Winston created the IA series, a coming of age hero’s journey, as part of a creative writing and ‘Boys Read’ program. He is also piloting the Adopt an Author program to connect authors with young readers via the web to help foster the love of reading.