The Dragon Charmer is the sequel to Prospero’s Children. Twelve years have passed, and Fern has grown up; in many ways, the tone of this novel has grown up as well. After denying that she has the Gift, Fern is about to marry a charming media personality to live a perfectly acceptable life. She’s not in love with him, although she likes him well enough, but he fits her plan for how she thinks her life should go. Returning to Yarrowdale for the wedding, her magical past comes back with a vengeance, catching Fern, her brother Will, and her best friend Gaynor in its web. Fern is pulled out of the world; Will and Gaynor work together with some familiar characters to try to bring her back. Like Prospero’s Children, we visit other worlds/realities besides our own.
The writing is in keeping with Prospero’s Children, poetically descriptive and enjoying the beauty of words even when describing disgusting things. You must have first read Prospero’s Children to get anything out of The Dragon Charmer, and if you or your tween had trouble making it through the first novel, this one isn’t for you either.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you should know before suggesting this to your kid
It’s not graphic or drawn out, but Morgus—a witch who captures Fern and hopes to control her Gift—rapes Fern to prove she has utter power over her. This is one of many reasons that Fern hates Morgus, eventually leading to…
Violence and Death
…Fern horribly burns Morgus, who is chasing after her as she tries to escape. It’s not exactly on purpose, but Fern feels zero remorse and never reflects on it. Narratively, it fits—Morgus needs to be dealt with and was never really human anyway.
The Dragon-Charmer is killed, and his head appears on the Tree of Life, which bears the heads of the dead like apples. It’s a kind of purgatory before those souls can move on to the peace of the afterlife. It’s also pretty creepy. They grow and talk and sometimes scream and a huge pig prowls the tree and eats the heads that fall.
Lots of stuff. The Tree of Life from above is totally creepy. Weirdly shaped creatures called morlochs attack several characters—they’re driven by nothing but the desire to devour. Fern is in a coma, yet she’s burned and cut with no apparent way for it to happen. There’s possession by evil beings, things that reach through mirrors and TV screens…basically it’s a pretty creepy book if you aren’t used to reading stuff along these lines.
Will and Fern are close to each other and would do anything for each other. Their father is still well meaning but clueless. They have an acceptable stepmother who is not quite as clueless as their father.
Morgus and Sysselore are sisters in a totally dysfunctional relationship. They try to claim Fern as their third sister, which would bring youth back to them. Morgus has had several children, one of whom looks like a monster. He and his mother hate each other, and in the end he sides with Fern to help her escape, and seems not at all sad when his mother is burned and seems to die.
Will and Gaynor are attracted to each other, and it’s clear that a certain evening could have gone in a particular direction. It doesn’t, but that’s chance more than choice.
Fern and Gaynor go out drinking before Fern’s wedding. Fern drinks a lot more than usual. They’re in a car wreck on the way home, although it turns out there was magic behind that more than drunk driving.
In a world where magic and evil gods are real, religion isn’t clear cut. This is discussed a bit, but the pastor is still a good and open-minded man, and religion is reflected on and questioned, but never ridiculed.
Probably a bit too dark for most tweens. But if your kid loved Prospero’s Children and can handle some disturbing stuff, it’s an interesting and well-written book. Again, it’s a great book for those transitioning into the realm of epic fantasy and who enjoy language and the ways that words can be put together.
The Dragon Charmer by Jan Siegel
Published in 2000 by Voyager
Sequel to Prospero’s Children and followed by Witch’s Honour (aka The Witch Queen in the US)
Read a copy published in Great Britain, borrowed from a friend