The Story of Owen

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Listen For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.

There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition.

But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected.

Such was Trondheim's fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds--armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard.

Listen I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen

-- "Journal"

Product Details

Carolrhoda Lab (R)
Publish Date
March 01, 2014
5.55 X 1.09 X 7.69 inches | 0.98 pounds

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About the Author

The cool things about Emily Kate Johnston are that she is a forensic archaeologist, she has lived on four continents, she decorates cupcakes in her spare time, she adores the Oxford comma, and she loves to make up stories.

The less cool things about Kate are that she's from a small town in southwestern Ontario, she spends a lot of time crying over books in random coffee shops, and she can't play as many musical instruments as she wishes she could. The Story of Owen is Kate's first novel. Visit her online at


"In an alternate universe much like ours, dragon-slaying is a lucrative corporate gig. Retired legendary dragon slayer Lottie Thorskard hopes to begin a movement to return the profession to its roots--local dragon slayers doing the unglamorous work of protecting their territory from ravenous, carbon-sniffing dragons. So she moves her family to tiny, rural Trondheim, Ontario, home of eleventh-grade budding composer Siobhan McQuaid, narrator of this original fantasy. Lottie asks Siobhan to be bard to her dragon-slayer-in-training teen nephew Owen: recounting his deeds, providing feedback on his technique, and promoting the idea of dragon slayers as public servants. (Also, he needs an algebra tutor, and Siobhan is good with numbers.) This means, however, that Siobhan will get much closer to dragons than she'd ever planned to. Johnston has great fun reimagining history in a dragon-filled world and takes on carbon emissions and global warming from a different angle. Modern references live comfortably next to those from Viking sagas, often to comic effect. With dragon attacks on the rise, Owen and Siobhan get wind of a new dragon hatching ground and lure the dragons away in order to destroy the eggs--a final confrontation that, in Siobhan's wry, heroic narration, is nothing short of epic." --The Horn Book Magazine


"In an alternate world where humans and dragons battle over fossil fuels, the tale of one slayer and his bard becomes a celebration of friendship, family, community and calling.
Once, every village had its own dragon slayer, but those days are long gone; now, slayers are drafted by governments or sponsored by corporations. Sixteen-year-old Owen Thorskard, scion of a renowned line, wants to help reverse that--starting with the rural Canadian town of Trondheim. While Owen is brave, dedicated and likable, this story really belongs to Siobhan McQuaid, dauntless bard-in-training. In her witty account, Siobhan learns alongside Owen from his heroic aunt and her blacksmith wife, schemes with classmates to create local Dragon Guards and enlists the entire county in a daring scheme to attack the dragons' own turf. Humor, pathos and wry social commentary unite in a cleverly drawn, marvelously diverse world. Refreshingly, the focus is on the pair as friends and partners, not on potential romance; Siobhan places as much emphasis on supporting her allies as extolling Owen's deeds. Smart enough to both avoid unnecessary danger and be scared when appropriate, they prove all the more valiant when tragic sacrifices have to be made.
It may '[take] a village to train a dragon slayer, ' but it takes an exceptional dragon slayer to deserve a village--and a storyteller--like this one." --starred, Kirkus Reviews


"Dragons inhabit myriad literary homes, from high-fantasy epics to classic children's stories. But have they ever been associated with the origin of Gordon Lightfoot's 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?' Or the fires of Kuwait? Or Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson? Or the success of the Beatles? First-time author E.K. Johnston connects all of these seemingly disparate dots in her dazzlingly sharp alternate history for teens, telling the story of a world that has never existed without dragons.

"Siobhan McQuaid and Owen Thorskard, high school students in small-town Ontario, live like everyone else on Earth: under the constant threat of dragon attacks. Drawn to anything with carbon emissions (fires, cars, factories, oil sands, etc.), dragons can be safely killed only when sword slices their two hearts; any other method results in a dangerous leak of toxins from their carcasses. Owen comes from a line of famous dragon slayers and Siobhan is his modern-day bard, charged with applying her musical talents to telling the stories of his conquests (and tutoring him in algebra). When dragon attacks begin to drastically increase in their area, Siobhan and Owen must rally the town in the absence of any government support.

"Johnston, a forensic archaeologist by trade, brilliantly weaves together Canadian history and speculative elements to create a propulsive plot and a thoroughly believable draconic world. Readers learn how an international initiative to protect the world's natural resources, called the Pearson Oil Watch after the former prime minister, brought Owen's dragon-slaying parents together during the fires of Kuwait (blazes that burned out of control thanks to interference from carbon-hungry dragons), and the Gordon Lightfoot classic is linked to a ship that was destroyed by dragons. By contrast, the Beatles' fame was attained by offering escapist songs with no mention of the dragon reality.

"Johnston has created a whip-smart, witty, and utterly inventive alternate history. If this stellar debut is any indication, hers looks to be a bright, long-burning career." --starred, Quill & Quire


"Listen! Long have we known of the dangers of carbon emissions. But even those of us who believe human activity is forever damaging the climate find it difficult to change our everyday behavior, because the real cost of a short drive to the grocery store just doesn't register.

"Obviously, though, my attitude toward emissions would change quickly if driving a car meant that a huge fire-breathing dragon might eat me.

"Dragons are the tangible cost of industrialization in E. K. Johnston's wry young adult novel, 'The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.' Johnston sets her story in present-day rural Ontario, but her world is one in which dragons, attracted from their breeding grounds by the smell of carbon, terrorize the populace. Hybrid cars are prized; the entire state of Michigan is a no man's land; and to light a bonfire at a high school kegger is to risk one of your bros getting devoured.

"Once upon a time, every small town had its own dragon slayer, but these days slayers get snapped up by major manufacturers offering big-money employment contracts to protect factories and refineries. A place like Trondheim must make do: Families build dragon shelters, and the most important buildings in town -- 'the hospital, the schools and the hockey arena' -- are sturdily fireproofed. So when a world-famous slayer moves with her family to Trondheim, hoping to repopularize the tradition of the local hero, it's big news. Her nephew, Owen Thorskard, is an immediate high school celebrity -- albeit one whose extracurricular activities may get him roasted to a crisp.

"The book's narrator, Siobhan McQuaid, is a down-to-earth girl who befriends Owen but doesn't get caught up in her classmates' hero-worship. She's too concerned with preparing for university, composing music and mastering the baritone saxophone. Her musical talents get her invited into the Thorskard clan to serve as Owen's bard, another tradition that's fallen by the wayside. 'Most postmodernists, ' Siobhan tells us, 'blame the decline of the dracono-bardic tradition' on the Beatles.

"Owen and Siobhan's platonic friendship is refreshingly free of drama. It's less refreshing that the same description applies to the novel as a whole. While Johnston's refusal to adhere to adventure-story convention is admirable -- I'm glad she doesn't force her heroes into a dumb love triangle, and I'm a big fan of the no-nonsense married lesbians who run the Thorskard roost -- there were times she might have embraced the formulaic a bit more.

"Case in point: For a book about dragon slayers, 'The Story of Owen' is weirdly bereft of dragons and the slaying thereof. We don't actually see our first winged monster until nearly halfway through, and few of the battles between Owen and the fire-breathers sing with excitement. Perhaps Johnston felt uneasy about her abilities as an action storyteller and tried to fill in that space in the book with world-building and exposition. So we get Siobhan's bardic retellings of the tales of famous dragon slayers like St. George, explanations of the corporate structure that supports dragon-slaying, and a short history of Henry Ford's doomed attempts to save the car industry in Michigan.

"While these sections are well thought out and often quite witty -- one joke about the logo of the Detroit Red Wings is so marvelous it's almost worth the cover price by itself -- I wish they supplemented rather than supplanted an engrossing narrative and exciting action. At times the book's shortcomings feel less like a writer's failings and more like a young novelist ill served by her editor. How else to explain a two-page sequence in which Siobhan searches for a parking place, or the way a compelling character like her popular, brave classmate Sadie Fletcher could be allowed to simply disappear from the story?

"Early in her career as a bard, Siobhan learns about the importance of embellishing stories: adding rich detail and eliding the bits that might prove less than thrilling to an audience. Later, as they prepare for a battle, Owen boils that lesson down to a simple request. 'When you tell people this story, don't mention any of the times I throw up.' The promising 'Story of Owen' is a clever first step in the career of a novelist who, like her troubadour heroine, has many more songs to sing." --The New York Times Book Review


"When Owen's legendary dragon-slayer aunt is too injured to continue her vocation, she starts teaching him the ways of the family business. And when Owen meets Siobhan, their friendship becomes part of an epic saga, since Siobhan becomes Owen's bard and tells the tale of his adventures to help him change the future of dragon slaying forever. Johnston's masterful book is a refreshing blend of alternative history, high fantasy, and contemporary teen life. Johnston has done careful research for her intricate world building, and the result is strikingly original and believable. Elements from our world are delicately shaped to fit this alternative, such as the Romans taking dragon slayers from their hometowns and conscripting them into service for the state. Even less illustrious historical elements--the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, for example--are now dragon related. But for all the emphasis on the world, Johnston does not neglect the depth of her characters: Owen and Siobhan's friendship is a beautiful, solid thing, and the authenticity of their relationship goes a long way to making this strange world more familiar. Siobhan's narration, in particular, perfectly blends her dry humor with her musical talent. Johnston, like Siobhan, knows how to spin a tale." --starred, Booklist


"Debut novelist Johnston envisions an Earth nearly identical to our own, with one key difference: dragons, whose attraction to carbon emissions--whether from campfires or cars--makes them a persistent threat. Everything from pop music to industry, literature, and the historical record has been influenced. The Sahara desert has its roots in a botched dragon slaying after Rome conquered Carthage; centuries later, the logo for the Detroit Red Wings symbolizes the loss of an entire state: 'the wheel, for the car that had brought Michigan up, and the wing, for the dragons that had brought it down.' After 16-year-old Siobhan McQuaid agrees to become the bard for dragon-slayer-in-training Owen Thorskard, who has moved with his famous dragon-slaying family to her small Ontario town, she winds up at the center of a grassroots effort to understand an odd spike in dragon numbers. Siobhan's narration sings thanks to her dry wit, intelligence, and ability to see the inherent musicality of life, while also commenting on the unreliability of history (and storytelling) and the power of a community to rally to save itself." --starred, Publishers Weekly


"4Q 4P M J S--In this contemporary fantasy, dragons live alongside humans, drawn to the carbon emissions and preying on anyone who happens to get in their way. Once considered a civic duty, dragon slaying became commercialized with the onset of industrialization, leaving poor rural communities vulnerable to attack. A legendary dragon slaying family, the Thorskards, aims to restore dragon-slaying traditions of yore, and their first step is hiring music prodigy Siobhan to become bard to their youngest slayer-in-training, Owen. The teens become close friends and soon find themselves bringing the community together to battle a mysterious surge of dragons in Trondheim.

"Despite the title, Siobhan is the true star of this novel, narrating the tale with off-beat humor and a believable teen voice. In a refreshing departure from the course many young adult novels take, Siobhan is more interested in developing her talents as a musician and bard, and in saving her community, than in romantic pursuits. She admires the virtues of her female friends--their strength, intelligence, and independence--as much as she does Owen's. Johnston focuses on developing rich characters and a detailed alternate history, with mild dragon encounters sprinkled throughout. Readers who enjoy world-building will enjoy the attention Johnston gives to infusing history and contemporary life with dragons. Those expecting fast-paced adventure may find that this exposition, while often funny, moves too slowly." --VOYA


"Siobhan is a typical teenager. Her hobbies include composing music, hanging out with friends, and driving her first car. Her biggest conflict is whether or not to tell her parents that she would rather pursue music than go to a university. All of that changes when she meets Owen Thorskard, currently failing algebra and potentially the nation's next great dragon slayer. Owen, nephew of famous Slayer Lottie Thorskard, goes to high school by day and trains to protect the rural town of Trondheim by night. The two teens become friends when it becomes painfully evident that Owen needs a math tutor. Little does Siobhan know that she's signing up for a lot more than tutoring. Soon she finds herself working as Owen's personal Bard. While he slays, she documents; together they work to show the country that dragon slayers are needed in more than just the big cities. Johnston seamlessly blends fantasy with realistic fiction; readers will have a hard time remembering that dragons aren't an everyday aspect of life. Suggest this title to reluctant readers as the fast-paced plot and witty dialogue will keep them turning pages until the tale's exciting conclusion. A great addition for any library with a strong fantasy following." --School Library Journal


"Siobhan McQuaid is dragon-slayer-in-training and Owen Thorskard's bard in this Dragon Slayer of Trondheim title. An accomplished musician, she is constantly writing songs about the people and events that make up her world. This is an alternate world where historical events have been overshadowed and impacted by dragons who feed on carbon emissions, and slayers like Owen and his famous relatives. Typical high school activities and issues are deftly woven into a plot that revolves around dragon evasion and slaying. Siobhan narrates the story with great teen wit, and conveys her excitement and fear in an authentic teen voice. The story focuses on her friendship with Owen as they work together. An interesting commentary on the perils of carbon emissions, action, interesting twists on history, and themes of friendship, family, loyalty, and sacrifice will keep readers turning pages." --Library Media Connection