The dragons of ordinary farm


Where matter vanishes...
Feb 20, 2008
As an aficionado of Tad Williams epic SFF campaigns in Osten Ard (MS&T) and Eion/Xand (Shadowmarch), I admit to previously wondering what a Williams Young Adult fantasy offering would be like, especially given the way that Williams likes to introduce his characters and scenes in shreds and tatters, slowly stitching them together in often imperceptible increments. Would Tad continue this style with The Dragons of Ordinary Farm, or approach the story differently? Would a simpler (in terms of plot and character complexity) storyline translate to less-than-brilliant storytelling?

In the story, Lucinda and Tyler are siblings with predictably clashing tastes and interests, children of a divorced mother who's planned a month's vacation at a singles retreat and accordingly made alternative plans for her two children. Neither child much cares for the plans, which involve a month on a farm. Lucinda the elder dreads recounting her anticipated mundane summer to her friends, while Tyler expects boredom worse than one can imagine. To make matters worse, the letter from their Uncle Gideon inviting them to the farm is riddled with seeming nonsense, and offers no clearer insight as to what they should expect.

Upon arriving, Lucinda and Tyler are met by a cast of unusual characters, none of whom seem ready or even willing to answer their growing list of questions about the farm. The siblings take it upon themselves to search out and investigate the causes of this reticence, and get more than they bargained for in return. Uncle Gideon, seeing that his niece and nephew are not likely to remain in their rooms and do chores, leads them on a tour of the farm, but this only creates more questions for the pair. They are consequentially put to work on chores like the regular farmhands, but quickly devise ways to sneak in extracurricular expeditions, and begin to discover mysterious, even frightening secrets about the farm's inhabitants, and not only about the animals. Comparing notes, the siblings begin to look to each other for support, and grow into a team in their pursuit of answers. Even this new found respect for each other, however, might not be enough to see them safely thru threats to the farm itself...

As I expect is the case with all master storytellers, Williams ability to spin a tale surpasses the vehicles and methods he chooses to do so. He meets the need to simplify (by which I DON'T mean "dumb down") the book as a Young Adult offering by telling the story mostly thru the eyes of the siblings. While some of the free-wheeling plot twists and turns that I'd come to expect from his "mature" offerings are tamer and more constructed here, the difference doesn't feel forced or unnatural, and doesn't detract from the story. I did feel some limitations more strongly than in his longer works, particularly the need to make the book stand as a story on its own despite being part of a series. I could almost feel places in the book where Tad might have otherwise left a character hanging on a literary precipice, expecting to return to that character at a later point in time, but did not do so in order to wrap that particular sub-plot back into the book's main plot. Readers like me who enjoy Williams' piecemeal character development may feel a bit "rushed" by this book, but in my case at least, the greater concision didn't take away from the story, either. I particularly enjoyed Williams' inclusion of today's adolescent manner of speaking and interacting via social media in the tale; this construct lent a degree of reality to the siblings, and gave them a recognizable "voice", as well.

The Dragons of Ordinary Farm paces itself; after a prologue that ends with a shock, the story's development moves in an almost plodding fashion, then tips a fulcrum point like a roller coaster and leaps full speed into action. Readers who have to have breakneck action quickly upon opening the book will not be satisfied, but good things come to those who wait, and so it is with Ordinary Farm. I liked it enough to recommend to my own young teenage daughter; the jury's still out on whether she'll read it, but at least she looked intrigued, and that's the best a parent can hope for sometimes! Four and a half stars out of a possible five, and I'll be reading the next book, entitled The Secrets of Ordinary Farm.

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