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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Rebecca Barnhouse weaves Norse gods, blood feuds, and a terrifying dragon into this spectacular retelling of the end of the Old English poem Beowulf. When he was a baby, Rune washed up onshore in a boat, along with a sword and a pendant bearing the runes that gave him his nickname. Some people thought he was a sacrifice to the gods and wanted to send him right back to the sea. Luckily for Rune, King Beowulf disagreed. He lifted the boy from the boat and gave him to Amma, a wisewoman living on a farm far removed from the king’s hall, to raise as she saw fit. Sixteen years later, Rune spends his summers laboring on the farm. And at King Beowulf’s request, he comes to the hall each winter for weapons training. But somehow he never quite fits in. Many people still fear he will bring a curse on the kingdom. Then a terrible thing happens. On a lonely crag on a mountain that belongs to the giants, someone awakens a dragon. It is time for Rune to find the warrior inside himself and prove…

The Coming of the Dragon

by Rebecca Barnhouse

Overall Book Review:

Rebecca Barnhouse certainly doesn’t make it easy on Rune, the sixteen year-old protagonist in The Coming of the Dragon.  In fact, she never cuts him a break and this may be what gives him authenticity and keeps the reader guessing about plot direction.  Filled with self-doubts and constantly second-guessing decisions that he has made, Rune seems a very real person indeed.  (Finally, a thoughtful hero who transforms and grows over the course of the narrative!)  Also, this book achieves real character depth in several of its supporting players through some high-caliber writing, while never sacrificing plot progression.  Inspired by the epic tale of Beowulf, the storyline begins before the encounter of Beowulf and the dragon and then continues the narrative beyond the action outlined in the poem.  Barnhouse provides an outstanding Author’s Note at the end of the book expounding upon the original poem and her inspiration for the book.  The Coming of the Dragon has all the elements and the tone necessary to become a classic for years to come and is highly recommended!

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Random House Children’s Books

Content Analysis:

In general, violence is the typical medieval fare of sword fighting, archery, and such.  Much of the violence was dragon versus man rather than man versus man.  Descriptions throughout were brief, non-graphic, often implied, and at times I felt were more “action” than violence.  Mild instances included an accidental injury of a character’s leg by a scythe while harvesting; report of five men dying by dragon attack; report of ancient battles and the deaths that happened; reports of more deaths as a result of dragon attack; a character encountering a body that has been charred by dragon fire; a vision of a possible battle with flames; a dragon sets houses aflame and two “figures fell”; a character appears to fall off a cliff.  Moderate instances include a character coming to a farm to find it destroyed by dragon fire and all the inhabitants dead with some of the bodies being badly charred; an epic battle between Beowulf and the dragon where the dragon breathes fire and bites, inflicting poison, as Beowulf attempts to find a weak spot to place his sword (this scene comes almost straight from the poem); a final battle scene between men involving tackling, hitting, arrows, sword fighting, etc. and several deaths occur (non-graphic in nature, but a somewhat extended scene).

One mild profanity was noted.  A common medieval bathroom term that today is considered somewhat coarse was used twice. 

Other content of note includes a character being cruel to another character by attempting to urinate on him.

The mild content of this book would make this an enjoyable read for medieval enthusiasts and accomplished readers as young as fourth or fifth grade, but on the other end of the spectrum, the 16 year-old protagonist gives this book some true upward readership breadth. 

Mature Subject Matter:

General and mature themes included were loyalty, loneliness, isolation, and responsibility; courage and cowardice; peace and war; revenge/vengeance and forgiveness.  The treatment of the themes was mild in nature.

Alcohol / Drug Use:


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About the Reviewer

An accountant and CPA by profession, I found myself a book reviewer for Squeaky Clean Reads by happenstance. When the opportunity came to transform that website into Compass Book Ratings, I was excited to seize it and meld my business background with my love of books. As the mother of three teenage sons, I have read a large number of children and young adult books and I believe that there is great value in a content review service. As much as we would love to read everything our children read, there just isn’t enough time. I also appreciate being able to select books for myself that are really worth my precious and limited reading time. I believe there is a book out there for everyone–they just have to find it!