A book review for parents
This fantasy adventure book is the first in the "Dragons of Starlight" series by Bryan Davis and is published by Zondervan.
Starlighter is written for kids ages 14 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Jason, 16, and Koren, 15, live on separate planets. About halfway through the book their lives intersect.
There is a legend on Jason's planet that many years ago a dragon kidnapped a group of people and took them through a portal to a dragon-ruled planet where they became slaves. Jason's older brother, Adrian, leaves to find the portal. Jason replaces him as the governor's bodyguard. When the governor is murdered and Jason is falsely accused, he sets off to find the portal. Elyssa, who is a friend with special gifts, goes with him, along with Tibalt, who is the son of an escaped slave, and Randall, who is a warrior.
A ghost, known as a snatcher, warns Jason and the others against crossing a field of flowers. The group ignores the warning. The flowers' odor induces sleep, but before their poison can take effect, Jason and Elyssa fall into a deep pit and land in an underground river. Carried along on the icy waters, they reach the portal. They can't open the stone wall, but Jason, by placing his fingers in special holes in the wall, can reverse the flow of the river. Deducing that Tibalt may have the ability to open the portal, Elyssa goes back for him. As Jason stands at the portal, he stares at an oval-shaped, glassy area on the wall. He sees Koren, a slave on the dragon planet.
Koren possesses an unusual gift for storytelling. Using her gift, she hypnotizes the dragon on watch and gains entrance to the dragons' administrative building. She searches for information that will help a fellow slave, Natalla. The watch dragon regains his senses and hunts for her, intending to turn her to ashes. Arxad, another dragon, intervenes. When Arxad learns that Koren's storytelling hypnotized the watch dragon, he tests her. The test reveals her extraordinary abilities. The dragons call people with these abilities starlighters.
The unexpected appearance of Magnar, the chief dragon, prevents Arxad from taking Koren to safety in the Northlands. Accompanied by Magnar, Arxad takes Koren to the black egg. (Dragon prophecy says that when the dragon prince within the egg comes into power, he will bring a time of bliss and end the dragons' dependence on the despised humans.) Koren is tested again and unlike the dragons, she is able to communicate directly with the unborn prince. She will now be his slave and his spokesperson.
Looking into the egg, Koren sees Jason standing at the portal. He sees her. They converse by reading lips. The river rises around Jason.
The water engulfs him. Elyssa returns with Tibalt and resuscitates Jason. Tibalt opens the portal. Jason and Elyssa find themselves in a mine. After watching a dragon whip one of the miners, a small child, Jason rashly kills the dragon. Other dragons arrive to punish the miners. Jason and Randall attempt to kill or drive off these dragons.
In town, Natalla is put on trial for trying to escape. When the dragons find her guilty, Koren interrupts the proceedings. She hypnotizes the dragons with a story about an endangered young man (Jason) who reveres the black egg. The dragons agree she and Natalla should leave immediately to rescue Jason. Arxad flies the girls to a safe place and tells them to run away while he confronts the hostile dragon accompanying them. The girls come upon the mine where Jason and Elyssa are.
The dragons, which now include Magnar, begin to flood the mine. Koren surrenders herself to the dragons in exchange for the lives of the people in the mine. The dragons transport her and Jason back to the town.
Magnar, recognizing that Jason comes from the other planet, demands that Jason give him a missing peg that would open the portal. Jason doesn't have it. Magnar threatens to turn Jason to ashes unless Koren tells the story of Uriel's escape and the missing peg. Jason frees Koren from most of her bonds. She manages to reach the black egg and threatens to destroy it. Koren agrees to let Arxad take her and Jason to a place of safety where she will give the egg to Arxad.
Meanwhile Elyssa stops the flooding and finds the hidden peg. As she attempts to open the portal, bees pour into the mine. Allender, the foreman, makes himself the bees' target and then rushes from the mine, declaring that everyone else is dead. The dragons turn him and the bees to ashes. The portal opens, and the slaves under Randall's leadership flee to the other world. Elyssa stays behind saying that she will look for Jason.
Koren and Jason return to the deserted mine and then start a journey to the Northlands where they hope to find help to free more of the slaves.
The novel draws on Christian symbols and principles, but there is not a Christ-like figure.
The slaves on the planet Starlight have sacred teachings, the Code, that tell them how to live. The slaves pass a book of these teachings around, memorize passages of it and try to live by the teachings. This same book has been almost destroyed on Jason's planet. Only parts of it remain.
The Code teaches that love is demonstrated through self-sacrifice. Jason, Elyssa, Koren and other human beings risk their lives to help or protect others. A number of people on Jason's planet and the slaves on the dragon planet believe in a supreme being who created everything. Koren and other slaves pray. They see the Creator as a father, guide, holy being and the source of wisdom and courage. Elyssa and Koren have faith in the omniscience and in the loving provision of the Creator. Koren and other slaves believe in an afterlife.
Elyssa and Koren are referred to as prophets. The Creator gave them these gifts. However, their prophetic gifts are not portrayed in the way Christians usually define prophecy. Elyssa is hypersensitive to her surroundings and can detect subtle differences in the air, etc. She can read Jason's mind and know what he will be thinking. Koren's storytelling enables her listeners to view the people and events she is describing. The experience is hypnotic for the dragons, and after listening to her, they temporarily submit to her point of view. She also can converse with the unborn prince within the black egg. Placing her hands on a large oval-shaped crystal, she is able to foretell the future and relate the past.
Koren believes that love happens only when a person is free to choose to love. The unborn dragon prince tries to convince her that choice and freedom are unnecessary. A relationship can be forced on another. Koren refuses to accept that. She believes such a relationship would empty a person of his soul.
Koren and Natalla struggle with regrets about some choices they have made. They know that forgiveness would bring relief but they are unable to receive it.
Jason lives in a stringently classed society. The government policies are overly restrictive. The peasants are poor, demeaned and denied many opportunities. They work hard, doing mostly manual labor. The wealthy, noble classes benefit from the peasants' efforts.
Jason comes from the peasant class. His parents believe in the Creator and are loving, humble and hardworking people. They believe in the stories about the enslaved peoples and are willing to let a second son, Adrian, try to rescue them.
Adrian is an admirable man — prudent, respectful, compassionate and skillful. He counsels Jason to think through problems and not just react emotionally. Adrian models respect for authority even when a person disagrees with that authority's policies. Jason looks up to Adrian and states that in some matters Adrian has had a greater influence on him than their father. Adrian's compassion for the slaves on the dragon planet motivates him to leave his respected position as the governor's bodyguard and search for the portal. Though an excellent warrior, Adrian does not flaunt his skills. He diligently trains Jason, and he avoids competing with the governor's other staff members.
He is a sharp contrast to Drexel, one of the palace guards. Devious and ambitious, Drexel orders the governor's murder and frames Jason. Drexel conspires to have Jason and Randall, the governor's heir, killed. He plans to become the new governor.
Uriel Blackstone is a legendary figure. He is one of the human beings Magnar captured years ago. Uriel refused to be enslaved. On the day he escaped, he courageously hid one of the pegs so the dragons could not open the portal. On his own planet, he told government officials what had happened to the missing people. The officials refused to believe him. Their rejection didn't stop him, and he told his story to his countrymen. He was tried and sent to prison. He did not give up in prison, but wrote down his story and his prophecies. Officials later sent him to a mental institution where he died. A number of his countrymen formed a secret group that continues to circulate his story and look for the portal.
Prescott, the country's governor, is a dictator. He is vain, corrupt and deceitful. He knows the dragon planet is not a myth but suppresses the truth. He is greedy for the dragons' riches and has secret business dealings with the dragons. (Prescott is in contact with Arxad, but the author does not show how these contacts take place. The dragons and Prescott do not use the portal.) Only pieces of a sacred book remain because Prescott's men burned existing copies. He imprisons Elyssa because she found information in his room about the dragon planet. He makes her disappearance look as if a mountain bear had kidnapped her.
Orion, the head priest on the human's planet, wants to capture Elyssa and execute her because of her gifts. He sees her as a witch.
In contrast Arxad, a dragon and an important priest on the dragon planet, recognizes Koren's gift and risks his reputation and life to protect her. Though the truth about the slaves' history (the human beings were not brought to the dragon planet for their safety, but were stolen to do hard labor for the dragons) goes against everything he has been taught, he accepts it when Koren reveals it. He is compassionate to humans and defends Natalla before the dragon council to the best of his ability. He helps Koren and Natalla escape, and he kills another dragon that wants to harm them. However, he deceives Magnar about the murder. He sagely sees a way to free Koren and Jason and still protect the black egg.
Magnar, the chief dragon, stole the humans from their planet and forced them into slavery. He lied to the other dragons and created a myth that he had rescued the humans. He is cruel and harsh in his dealings with humans. He orders the other dragons to kill all the miners despite the bargain he made with Koren to let them live. Magnar is scornful of the priests and their prophecies.
The unborn prince in the black egg is not trustworthy. He twists virtue and evil as he tries to manipulate Koren to do his will.
Other Belief Systems
The Creator has given green-eyed people special gifts. The dragons believe that redheads have special powers.
The dragons study the stars and the planets in a building called the Zodiac. It is not stated what they gain from their study. However, the Zodiac is the building where they perform religious rites.
Objects shaped like ovals or spheres have special properties including the power to reveal things outside the physical arena. When Arxad tests Koren to assess whether she is a starlighter, he has her place her hands on a crystal sphere. In her mind she is drawn up to the stars. She then relates events from the past and foretells the future.
Ghosts appear as both good and evil. A ghost, known as a snatcher, warns Jason and the others against crossing a field of flowers. Other ghostly figures harass people.
A palace guard is described as fighting dirty, trying to strike Jason below the belt (the word groin is used).
This adventure novel has numerous scenes of peril and combat, however there are several levels of intensity. Some scenes contain elements that merely add tension such as the scurrying of rats in a dark dungeon, the presence of a potentially explosive gas, the harassment of ghostly figures and the cold-heartedness of the keeper of the black egg.
Though many of the acts of violence toward the slaves on Starlight are not described in detail, there are numerous mentions of the dragons' cruelty. For example, slaves are sold at auction; a young girl's tongue is cut out; a man who can no longer work is starved to death; small children are starved and forced to live in pens; other small children must do hard labor in the mines.
Some violent scenes in the story are not depicted, but characters relate them in detail. Lattimer, wanting to warn Koren, tells her how a former starlighter was tortured to death. Arxad tells Magnar how he killed another dragon. Randall hints that the dragons ate the remains of the roasted Allender.
In other scenes, the violence is less explicit. For example, the first swordfight in the novel is a contest that tests and exhibits the skills of the swordsmen. It ends with a slight wounding. The second swordfight begins as a serious encounter, but there is no bloodletting. It is merely the governor's test of Jason's skills as a bodyguard. The governor is murdered while he sleeps in his bed, but the murder is not described. Jason only discovers the governor is dead when he crawls out from underneath the governor's bed and sees the knife in his chest and the blood.
The combat scenes following Jason's escape from the dungeon are short. The fighting between Jason and the palace guards is fierce, but no one dies. Elyssa joins the fight, hitting one of the guards on the back of the head with a stout branch. Later, a guard betrays Randall and shoots him in the back. He is wounded, but not seriously.
Other scenes of peril and violence are high drama. Jason is struck by lightning during a freak storm. Elyssa and Jason, swept into the currents of an icy underground river, find themselves on the verge of hypothermia. Several times characters nearly drown: Randall and Jason in the rain-swollen creek, Elyssa as she returns with Tibalt to the portal, and Elyssa as she attempts to stop the flooding in the mine. Elyssa and Tibalt find Jason with no pulse, perform CPR and revive him.
A man-eating bear breaks into the cabin intending to devour Jason, Randall, Elyssa and Tibalt. The boys try to fight it off. Elyssa stops the bear when she throws an axe at its back. The bear doesn't die. A dragon whips a small child, and Jason slays the dragon. Jason and Randall attempt to kill or drive off other dragons. The dragons force angry bees into the mining tunnels, hoping the bees with their deadly stings will kill the hiding slaves or drive them from the mine. One miner, protecting another, draws the angry swarm to himself. He then runs from the mine where the waiting dragons unleash their fire on him.
Magnar threatens to burn Koren and Jason. He bloodies them and tortures them with a device that converts and amplifies his fiery breath into searing heat rays.
Jason says his brother has taught him to show women respect and honor. Elyssa sleeps next to Jason in the cabin. Elyssa wraps her arms and legs around Jason in a nonromantic way when they are in the icy waters of the underground river. She does this so they will keep each other warm and not die from hypothermia. Elyssa blows kisses to Jason and Randall. The kisses are viewed as signs of friendship. She kisses Jason on the cheek, but it seems to be a sign of gratitude and friendship. Randall kisses Elyssa's hand in farewell. Koren takes Jason hand and he takes hers. It is a sign of their agreement to work together.
Elyssa thinks the dragons may be arranging marriages for their human slaves in order to breed fitter slaves. There is an allusion to Koren's mother being used by the dragons as a breeder.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What does it mean to show respect for authority?
Does a person in authority have to earn respect?
Why or why not?
Do you know a person in authority whose ways or policies you disagree with?
How can you show respect for that person?
- What does self-sacrifice mean?
Have you ever given up something important to help someone else in need?
How hard was that to do?
Was there a benefit?
What did Jesus sacrifice for us?
- How did the people of Jason's world treat Uriel Blackstone when he told them about the dragon planet?
How is the way Uriel was treated similar to the way Christians are treated today?
Are you willing to have people call you "crazy" when you tell them about Jesus?
- Why does Drexel want to rescue the enslaved people of Starlight?
How do you see that same response in our world today?
- What do the snatchers try to take from Jason as he stands at the portal and keeps the river flowing?
How do they try to take it from him?
Who in the Bible uses these same techniques?
Have you ever made a promise and then had someone else try to convince you to break your promise?
How did that person try to convince you?
Did you begin to doubt yourself?
What can you do in those circumstances to overcome such self-doubts?
- Why did Jason slay the dragon?
Have you ever rushed into a situation to help someone and found out your actions only made the situation worse?
What did you do then?
Will God help a person out of a difficulty even when that person has made a mistake?
- What does Koren believe happens to a person enslaved to another?
Do you agree with her that love must be a choice?
Why does God give us the choice to love Him or not love Him?
- Why do the dragons allow Arxad to ride away with Koren and Natalla?
Was it true that Jason was revering the black egg?
Should Koren have used her gift of storytelling to deceive the dragons?
- Why do you think Elyssa doesn't tell Jason her plans?
Is this a good way for a person to work with a team member?
What can be the consequences of not communicating?
As well as discussing biblical tenets, the novel contains teaching about what it is to be a warrior — to be tough and don't quit — and teaching about what it is to be a man — to learn to deal with difficult people.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.