So where would I start if Owen wasn't my book nephew?
I guess I would start with "It takes a village to raise a dragon slayer". And I wouldn't feel like I was just re-hashing the same tag line that all the other reviewers have used, because for non-nephew books I don't usually read quite so many...
Well, it does takes a village to raise a dragon slayer, and Owen Thorskard, dragon-slayer-in-training, has a whole cast of memorable characters to fill that task. And he needs every last one of them.
The Story of Owen is set in a world that is mostly recognizable with one glaring exception-- carbon-eating dragons that have plagued the human race since the dawn of history. We didn't exactly help ourselves with the whole fossil-fuel based industrial revolution, either. Things have only gotten worse since then. But a sword is still the best way to kill a dragon and there are those who still pursue the ancient and noble profession.
Unfortunately, in modern times they also have to pass algebra.
Owen is the hero of our story but he is not the one who tells it. That honor falls to his bard, Siobhan, who also, incidentally tutors him in the aforementioned algebra.
There are so many different ways to love this book. As I said, I've read several reviews in the past few weeks in anticipation of Owen's debut, and I'm truly delighted in the variety of things people have latched onto.
Perhaps you might find the Social Issues to your interest.
Or perhaps you'd just like to gush about the brilliant and well-conceived Alternate History. (Spoilers: There's a dead spot on the map where Michigan used to be).
If hardcore Canadian books are your thing, then you'll certainly love Owen. This is probably my second-favorite aspect of the book, mostly because I learned a lot, not just about Canada, but about the exact part of Ontario that is just across the lake from where I live. (The lake in question is named Erie). Owen is loosely based on the area where Kate grew up and I went to visit her shortly after I read the first draft. I was astonished at how much I recognized of the small town atmosphere and the geography, so much that my first few kilometers into southern Ontario I was unconsciously scanning the skies for swooping dragons chasing the smoke fumes from my car.
"Emma!" I later told our mutual friend (and other Cool Aunt), "It looks exactly like she didn't describe it!!" Which is an achievement that will never cease to impress me. "Oh, and by the way, I made it through Michigan ALIVE!"
My favorite aspect of Owen, however, is without a doubt the musicality, as narrated by Siobhan. A teenage composer and storyteller, Siobhan describes people as musical instruments and events with appropriate orchestration. Among other things, this results in sentences such as "I had finally managed to make the horn sound like something besides a duck that had just realized it was going to be Christmas dinner" which Siobhan relates about her efforts to learn how to play the various members of the brass family. This is just one example of the delightful turn of phrase to be found in abundance in the book.
Did I mention that Owen has gotten high praise from such distinguished institutions as Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly? I may be a biased Cool Aunt, true, but my preferment doesn't really need any justification. This is a truly unique piece of fiction, a tale of epic heroism wrapped in the quiet joy of ordinary life.
UPDATE 12-04-2014: Owen has been nominated for the 2015 Morris Award! (for debut authors in teen fiction) As if you needed another reason to check it out!
There. I think I managed to do something better than "OMG MY FRIEND WROTE A BOOK AND IT'S AWESOME GO BUY IT AND READ IT RIGHT NOW!!"
And if I embellished or omitted anything... Siobhan will understand. (spoilers)