This book is written for a younger audience, middle grade age I believe, as such I'm going to try and avoid any criticisms on the writing style, though I had many complaints about it. Instead I'll focus on the plot, characters, and the world building. This book is the first in what I believe is a four book series. I haven't read the other books and I'm not going to finish the series. I'm aware some of the issues I have with the first book might be fixed in the next book, but I feel the first book of any series should be strong enough to stand on it's own merit.
World Building: What's that you ask? Well I wouldn't ask the author of this book. We get a short excerpt in the beginning of the book about the planet Austar IV where the story takes place. Yolen was also kind enough to provide us with a completely useless family tree of Heart's Blood. I say useless because after reading this book I don't see how this information actually adds anything to the story line. I mean do I really need to know which dragon was culled, which wasn't and who mated with who. Is that actually relevant information in later books? We're not talking Game of Thrones here, there weren't that many dragons. So my issue with this book is there is very little, if any, world building. By the end of the book I've learned almost nothing about the world the characters inhabit.
Since I initially skipped reading the excerpt at the beginning, let's look at what we learn from the book alone:
1. People are capable of space travel.
2. The planet the people inhabit has dragons, which almost became extinct until the people stepped in and started to breed them to fight each other in pits.
3. The planets entire economy is based around these fights.
4. The people are separated into two classes: slaves and masters. Seriously are there any non slave owning people on this horrible excuse for a planet?
5. A slave can earn enough money to buy their freedom.
Now lets look at what we learn from going back to the excerpt:
1. People are capable of space travel.
2. The planet started out as a penal colony named Austar IV. By the way, the inhabitants are called Austarians. Jane Yolen, that is not as clever as you think it is. Also, they originally came from Earth.
3. The capital city is called Rokk.
3. Austar IV has dragons, which almost became extinct, until some genius said, "Hey, lets breed these guys and make them fight each other."
4. The planets economy is based around these fights.
5. The people are separated into two classes: slaves and masters.
6. The separation of classes is based on the convict-guard hierarchy from generations ago.
So after 292 pages, we actually learn less about the planet then we do in the excerpt. This for me, is a major problem, the story wasn't interesting enough by itself to keep reading. I only finished the book because I was hoping by the end I would learn more about the planet than the meager amount of information the author doled out. Why and how did the Austarians first come up with the idea and ability to breed a thirteen foot long fire breathing lizard that can fly? Is dragon the only meat on the planet that's edible? Were the settlers so desperate for fresh meat, they figured, why not? Are there any other animals on this planet besides dragons and drakks? Austar IV was suppose to be a penal colony, wouldn't they have sent them off with livestock or supplies? Why can people telepathically communicate with these dragons, when as far as I can tell, they're only native to this planet? Humans didn't evolve to telepathically communicate with a different species in 182 years and I'm pretty sure the dragons didn't either. Is the ability to sense whether an egg contains a dragon related to the telepathy? If so, why can only some people sense them? Why is stealing a dragon egg forgivable, but stealing a hatchling a horrible crime? I read the explanation the author gave, but honestly that made very little sense. If a person steals an egg that contains a dragon, you're still short a hatchling, you just don't know it. Why do dragons only respond to trainers when they speak thou and thee? Why was Sarkkhan trying to breed a mute dragon? Why is there no electricity except in rare instances, but they have what I assume are trucks and high powered tasers that are powerful enough to kill a dragon? Why is a book written by a female author so sexist? Maybe some of these questions are answered in the following books, but honestly the author did such a poor job exploring her own world in this book that I just don't care.
Plot: The entire story is based around a young man named Jakkin. He's a bond slave to a fairly well off and successful dragon breeder. Jakkin dreams of one day being a master, our hero people. He doesn't just want to be free man; he wants to one day own other people. In order to free himself though, he needs money. Jakkin's dad had some experience in training dragons before he died, so he decides to steal an egg from his master and raise it to fight in the pits, because we all know the ability to train a 13 foot dragon to fight is hereditary. Before our hero, can steal an egg however, he's severely injured trying to kill a creature called a drakk, which kills and eats dragon hatchlings. When he wakes up all the eggs have hatched. Since stealing a hatchling is severely punished, he decides to torture himself with what he can't have by going to visit the new dragons. While in the barn he discovers that the people who counted the hatchlings made an error and they missed one. Not even a little bit suspicious, he steals the dragon and sneaks him off to an area he had set up to train it. He spends a year training this dragon to fight in the pits with the help of another bond slave named Akki. At the end of the year he has Akki register his dragon in it's first fight. The dragon wins and Jakkin's master congratulates him and tells Jakkin he actually let him steal the dragon. The master deliberately miscounted so Jakkin would have a chance to prove what a great trainer he was. He then offers Jakkin Akki's services, who is apparently his daughter, when he finally earns enough to free himself. The End.
The book itself was poorly paced. We don't get to the theft of the hatchling until about page 90. We then have to wait until page 236 for the first and only fight. If only the pages in between were actually entertaining. We learn all the moves Jakkin teaches his dragon, but in name only. The descriptions that follow are so poor I'm still not sure what move is what.
Characters: There's not much I can say here except, there isn't a single redeemable character in the lot. There isn't a single moment in the book that our protagonist thinks maybe you shouldn't own people. In fact, we end the book with Jakkin dreaming of one day buying Akki. What really irritates me is that the author made the protagonist so unlikable,after subjecting us to crappy world-building and a poorly paced plot. It was totally unnecessary as well; it's possible to create a character whose evil or even morally objectionable and have them still be likable. Just look at the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud. So I'll just end this review with this; WTH was the author thinking?