Gork, the Teenage Dragon

Gork, the Teenage Dragon

Book - 2017 | First edition.
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A TODAY Show Summer Pick
An Amazon Summer Beach Reads Pick
A Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction of the Month Pick

"Hilarious. . . . Gork is less Game of Thrones and more The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ."
-- Rolling Stone

"Delightful. . . . Gork satirically plumbs some of the same supervillain territory that forms the basis of recent films like Despicable Me ."
--Paul Di Filippo, The Barnes & Noble Review

"No good human won't love this dragon named Gork." --Dave Eggers

"Outrageous storytelling and soulful humor in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut."-- Gary Shteyngart

Gork isn't like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious--the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they'll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork's biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780375413964
Branch Call Number: FIC Hudso
Characteristics: 380 pages ; 25 cm


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Jan 23, 2020

This review contains some spoilers, although I tried to be vague.

There are a lot of fun ideas going on in this book, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I picked it up because I love dragon stories, and all the characters in this are indeed dragons, but they live in a world of robots, teleportation pads, sentient space ships and other sci-fi elements. I was expecting more of a fairy-tale setting. I tried to go along with the flow, and some of the sci-fi elements worked (a mated pair of dragons fly to a new planet and breed themselves an army to conquer said planet, which is an interesting concept) while others didn’t make much sense (a machine somehow “swaps” the minds of a worm and a lion, so the worm can now run at lion speeds and kill large prey…with the limbs and teeth it still doesn’t actually have?)

There was potential for character development with Gork and the grandfather who raised him, bonafide supervillain Dr. Terrible. I’m always fascinated by the psychology of villain characters, and I hoped for some kind of exploration of what makes Dr. Terrible tick, whether it’s possible to be a planet-conquering mad scientist and still genuinely care for your family, etc. Gork certainly does have mixed feelings about him, with a few good memories of bonding mixed with horrible, abusive memories, but nothing really comes of it. Their final confrontation should have felt way more personal than it did.

The ending was rushed. For a book narrated in first person, I would have expected more introspection at the end, where the hero looks back on how his experiences shaped him. Instead we were introduced to a slew of new characters, presumably as sequel fodder.

Probably my biggest complaint about the book was the repetitiveness of the vocabulary. We KNOW the dragons are green and scaly. You don’t need to describe them that way on practically every page. This started bugging me so badly that by the third chapter I started keeping track of how many times those words were used. The grand tally, after all 377 pages, was as follows: “scaly” appeared 110 times, “green” 100 times, “green scaly” twice, and “scaly green” a whopping 169 times–three of those times on the same page! It was laughable and distracting. (I didn’t count “green” when it referred to something other than a dragon, by the way.) I didn’t write down the number of times their “black beaks” were mentioned, but that was also very repetitive. Are all these dragons the exact same shade of green? Are none of them “emerald” or “mossy” or even “yellow-green”? Either think of different ways to describe things, or trust the readers to remember descriptions for longer than a paragraph.

Despite these criticisms, I wouldn’t call it a bad book. It had some genuinely exciting moments and a few chuckles along the way. Gork himself is pretty likable as an insecure loser with too much heart for his own good, and I definitely liked Fribby, Gork’s part-robot, part-dragon best friend.

If the thought of awkward teenage dragons hanging out with robots and talking space ships (and occasionally causing great bodily harm to each other) appeals to you, check it out. If you’re looking for more traditional dragon tales with epic literary scope, give it a pass.

Be advised that there is a fair amount of violence, some graphic, in the book, as well as cannibalism, capital punishment (of minors, no less), mentions of suicide, and sexual themes/references. I would say the book is appropriate mainly for adults, and perhaps older teens.

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