New Dragon City by Mari Mancusi
A unique and imaginative post-apocalyptic and dystopian story for middle-grade readers.
When the apocalypse came, the cause turned out to be nothing like anyone ever imagined: DRAGONS. Where they came from, no one knew, but the results were unthinkable. Humans, used to being the apex predator, became prey. People died, and governments fell.
During the fall and winter seasons, the dragon herds returned from where they came to hibernate. The 100 or so survivors in New York City clung together, living in a former hotel in midtown, pooling their meager resources, scavenging what they could from the vacant businesses, stores, and apartments, always with an eye on the sky for when the dragons again awoke.
Each spring, the dragons returned, and once sighted, the humans hurriedly packed up their possessions to evacuate the vulnerable hotel structure. They retreated belowground into the subway system, where the tunnels had been blocked off and reinforced against the dragons. The main entrance was then sealed by a thick door, reclaimed from an old bank vault equipped with a timer set to open on November 1st when the dragons were sure to be gone.
Noah, his mother, and his father had survived the first three years of the dragon invasion on their own, holed up in a private underground bunker of his dad's design. They'd only returned to the city when their supplies finally ran out. Now two more years down the road, his mother had gone missing, and although everyone at the hotel had searched for her, no trace had ever been found.
Almost a month earlier than usual, the first dragon was sighted over the city. Noah and his best friend, Maya, were the ones to raise the alarm. They had been surprised while scavenging and had barely escaped being eaten or burned alive. But as the hotel group hastened to get their things together for the evacuation to the subways, Noah's father told him that he was staying on the surface to continue the search for his mother. His father had entrusted Noah to Maya's family for the summer underground.
When his father refused to allow him to remain behind as well, Noah and Maya hatched a plan to distract the adults during the evacuation to let Noah slip away from the group and hide until after the main entrance door timer was activated. But their plan was unnecessary, for just as the group was making its way down the subway stairs, a dragon disrupted the orderly operation, attempting to snatch Noah from the back of the line. Chaos ensued, and Noah was genuinely left outside when the big vault door slammed into place. Alone in the large city, Noah must track down his father and evade the notice of the dragons hunting for their dinner.
New Dragon City is one of the most unique and imaginative post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories I've read. While destruction by war, zombies, pestilence, and extreme climate change have all been done to death, an infestation of dragons feels like a fresh take on this theme.
I enjoyed immensely that the story is told from two points of view, that of the boy Noah and Asha, the young dragon. The parallels in their situations made the story much more interesting, entertaining, and emotion-filled. Both are still so young and are thrust into situations that would be tough on those older and more experienced. Noah is being tugged in different directions by his disagreeing parents. Asha, as the daughter of the dragon herd's queen, has restrictions on her actions and a heavy burden of responsibility for the herd. I liked that during their brief encounters with one another that they could eventually relax and relate and just be "kids."
The ruins of New York City are described in compelling detail, with familiar sights and locations sprinkled throughout. I had a clear picture of where everyone was and what it looked like. Unlike other books in this genre, I liked how organized these survivors had gotten and how well they seemed to get along and help each other. The survivors Noah meets away from the safety of the organized groups were scary and surprisingly creepy to me. I can't get that couple he encountered in the restaurant out of my mind.
Young readers will easily relate to the two very likable main characters. Their budding friendship and ability to get along despite the years of terror of the other's species will delight. They will soon be rooting for Noah and Asha to overcome their friends' and families' objections and anxieties.
I recommend NEW DRAGON CITY to middle-grade readers that enjoy novels with fantasy elements such as dragons and won't be disturbed by the post-apocalyptic setting, dragons hunting and trying to eat people, or people hunting and killing dragons.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.