By Wendy Thomas
In “To Shape a Dragon’s Breath” by Moniquill Blackgoose, 15-year-old Anequs sees a dragon on her home island of Masquapaug, where no native dragons – Nampeshiwe – have been seen for many years. The next day, she goes to the temple to make an offering of tobacco and juniper, and discovers that the dragon has left behind an egg. Following tradition, the egg is brought to the meetinghouse where the villagers sing to it and keep it company. When it hatches, the dragon, Kasaqua, imprints on Anequs and they are bound to each other for life, changing the course of Anequs’ future.
A dragon’s breath can be destructive if not properly shaped, and there are rules and restrictions around who can have a dragon and how they raise it. Dragons can react unpredictably and sometimes violently to strong emotions in their dragoneers, and Kasaqua is no different. Anequs has no choice but to attend Kuiper’s Academy to learn to shape Kasaqua’s breath or risk her being taken and destroyed. The Academy is filled with wealthy and privileged students who don’t approve of Anequs’ way of moving through the world and teachers who think she is an uneducated savage, but she is fortunate to have an advocate in the first woman dragoneer who opened up the world of dragoneering for females.
At its heart, this is a story of colonialism and the subjugation of Anequs’ people to the laws and ways of the Anglish. Known as “nackies,” Anequs’ people live peacefully off of the land and have great respect for themselves, others and the natural world. The Anglish have very specific rules of etiquette and value conformity and prosperity above all else. Anequs creates waves by asserting herself against the arbitrary Anglish values while creating a community around her of others who may not fit the Anglish standard of appearance or behavior.
Combining fantasy, historical fiction and Indigenous folklore, the many facets of this story make it a multilayered read. This is the first book in the Nampeshiweisit series and is written by a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, making this a perfect read for Indigenous People’s Month. Check out this and other great books by Indigenous authors at a Denver Public Library Branch near you.
Join the Smiley Branch Library for a Ghanaian cooking class on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Find more information and register at denverlibrary.org/events.
Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.