Dragonfly Song – Wendy Orr
1st July 2016, Allen&Unwin
400 pages, 4/5 stars
I really love Greek mythology – in fact, in a few weeks I’ll be starting a university course about Greek and Roman myth! Therefore, I was pretty excited when this book came across my desk. We didn’t actually get to the bull dancing until the second half of the book, which was a bit disappointing, but the story was still good!
The main character, Aissa, is mute, and she communicates to the audience through poetry. Her words are expressed through poetry, while the rest of the story is told in prose. Orr has done a fantastic job balancing the two. Just as I was struggling with the poetic form, we would move back to prose. But the poetry was absolutely beautiful – I was reminded of One and Sister Heart – two books written entirely in poetry which I completely adored.
The first half of the book revolves around an island which must pay tribute to Crete – this tribute includes two thirteen-year-olds who must participate in the bull-dancing. The island is never named, but it inspires complete loyalty in its bull-dancers; all they hope for is to return. However, in the first half of the book we see through Aissa’s eyes. She is an orphan, considered bad luck, and is the lowest of all the servants. Eventually, she is cast out of even the servant’s quarters, but it is then when she truly discovers who she could be.
Wendy Orr has moved away from the traditional fantastical fiction about Crete and its Minotaur. Rather than focussing on the mythical half-bull, half-man, Dragonfly Song adheres more strictly to the history, observing the bull dancing – a risky, dangerous sport halfway between bull-fighting and gymnastics. It was fascinating to read about the actual historical context without magical subtext.
The ancient culture comes alive in this book. I loved the depiction of the Bull King, presiding over events in an enormous bull mask. It sounds like a sight to behold. There is much to learn about the power of perspective. Although there is much risk in the bull-dancing games, the tributes are trained, and if they are not good enough, they are sent away to act as servants; only the best compete.
I was inspired to research Minoan Crete and was completely fascinated by their culture. I am sure it will also encourage children to do their own independent research on the history of Ancient Greece. This book has confirmed that Ancient Greece is one of my favourite historical periods.
Abandoned by the priestess of the island at birth, Aissa is an outcast, surviving by her wits – until she joins the acrobatic bull dancers who are sent away to compete on the island of the Bull King. A gripping and powerful adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.
There are two ways of looking at Aissa’s story. She’s the miracle girl who escaped the raiders. Or she’s the cursed child who called the Bull King’s ship to the island.
The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.
Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.
Aissa is resilient, resourceful, and fast – but to survive the bull ring, she will have to learn the mystery of her true nature.
A riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure from award-winning author Wendy Orr.