Writing a unique YA novel in this saturated genre can be a challenge, as dozens of new authors seemingly pop up every week. The key to finding a niche in the ever-crowded YA genre is a clever take on a popular theme, combined with interesting characters and an engaging plot. In Jake & the Dragons of Asheville, author Brian Kacica delivers a fun and memorable novel that both young readers and adults will enjoy.
As with many YA adventure stories, there is an unprepared hero, Jake Winston, who is living a relatively normal early teenage life in North Carolina before his father unexpectedly dies. There was already something strange brewing in this small North Carolina village – what with the nosy drones and the secret government bases within a stone’s throw of the houses. Jake is also going through some decidedly “strange” symptoms of puberty, and in a small town, secrets like his are very hard to keep.
A grandfather Jake hardly knows sends him on a mysterious mission, based on an ancient power that lies within his blood, but Jake has no way of knowing the epic war he is about to enter. With his grandfather’s cryptic messages and vague promises of self-discovery, Jake embarks on a journey that will change his life – and give him the chance to meet dragons – just like the ones he had read about in school.
Long thought to be extinct, these dragons are the subject of fascination for the government agency working at the edge of town – the one with a keen new interest in the blood running through Jake’s body. Thrust into a deadly battle between ancient beasts and the relentless organization, ONX, Jake must dig deep within himself and unleash the power of his bloodline to protect himself and these mysterious beasts.
While the plot is fast-paced and intriguing, the range of characters is somewhat stale, with few of them serving much of a purpose except to drive the plot forward. Jake’s friends and family are a bit bland, and the dialogue quickly becomes flat in many scenes. The history of Jake’s family and their powers, which are slowly revealed over time, is an exciting element to the story, as though the author relishes exposition over action.
The target reader of this book is also somewhat unclear, considering that the subject matter swings wildly from whimsical adventures to intense interrogations, harsh language, and the looming threat of death. For more mature readers, this is a common edginess that many fantasy novels possess, but the author never makes it abundantly clear who this book is written for.
As a whole, the entire story is cleverly designed, and is certainly original, but the personality types are slightly hackneyed and Kacica doesn’t provide many reasons to care about the characters, aside from Jake and his grandfather. Fortunately, Jake is a fun and sympathetic protagonist, but this isn’t quite enough to make up for what is lacking in other characters.
For a first-time novelist, Jake and the Dragons of Asheville is an entertaining book, but there are undeniable stumbling blocks that should be addressed before continuing on with this series.
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