Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
Publisher: Pajama Press
Number of Pages: 408
Publishing: October 27th, 2017
Source: In exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Aissa was born with an extra thumb on each wrist, which her mother the priestess claims makes her an "imperfect" child, not fit to follow in her footsteps of singing to the snakes. When the chief takes it upon himself to remove the child's imperfections, he ends up dying the very next day. The priestess sees this as a bad omen and summons her wise-woman to take the baby away and offer her to the God's. Keyla instead takes Aissa to farmers, where she is happy living with Mama, Dada and her sister Zufi until raiders attack the farmhouse. Sensing the danger, Mama hides Aissa, telling her to stay quiet, "don't make a sound." Aissa is so very young and takes Mama's words literally and doesn't speak a word again. Mute and alone, Aissa is finally rescued and unfortunately given to an unsympathetic Aunt, who feels she's cursed, and abandon's her at the priestesses Great Hall. Aissa is to become a servant in the Lady's kitchen. Meanwhile, The Bull King has come to the island with an offer to the Lady and her new chief, in return for supplies and one thirteen-year-old boy and girl as tributes in his bull dances each year, he will provide protection from the Raiders. If the tributes can survive, they will be returned to the island and no further tributes will be selected. At the age of twelve, Aissa is cast out of the kitchen by the other staff for being seen as bad luck. Left all alone, she see's her only means of survival to offer herself as the next tribute for the Bull King.
Dragonfly Song is written in two parts, Book One chronicles Aissa's early life and events leading to her decision to become a tribute to the Bull King. Aissa deals with lots of loss at an early age, and even becomes a slave within the priestesses Hall where she is further bullied, spit on, teased and given the nickname of No Name. When she somehow summons dragonflies around her, she is banished, left to starve and ends up hiding among the rocks surrounding the sanctuary. She spends her days spying on the villagers, the priestess performing her snake singing and scavenging for food. Aissa's one longing is to be free and I wanted this for her as well. Dragonfly Song is written in both free verse and prose, which I thought was an interesting choice at first, yet Orr's transitions come together smoothly, developing Aissa's character and giving insights into her inner thoughts. Aissa was so resilient and even a bit silently rebellious, which I really appreciated about her character. My favorite moment occurred after she was bullied by two of the servants and her new outfit ruined, Aissa then snuck into the Lady's washroom where she took a long luxurious warm bath, despite what the consequences would be if she were caught. Kindness was something Aissa never received in her first twelve years of life, and even when she does receive some from fellow tribute Luki or the goat herder's daughter, it's foreign and something she shy's away from. Yet, despite everything she grows into this strong girl determined to win her freedom and show everyone what she is capable of.
The second part of the story begins with Aissa traveling to the Bull King's island and her training to become an acrobat in the bull-dancing games. Things don't necessarily get easier for her there but she does make friendships and everyone shares in the desire to make it out of the games alive. And oh how the games were dangerous. Essentially, they grab this charging bull by the horns and try to flip over their back without getting impaled, all to honor the Bull King. Thrilling to say the least. The second part of the book went by very quickly, and before I knew it was over, but what a fascinating look at the Minoan civilization's culture, religious practices, with the priestess performing her snake singing, the ways that they celebrated the changing of seasons and the practice of offering tributes to King Minos. This is a picture I found online to give you an idea of what the bull dancers looked like.
|By ChrisO at English Wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7480255