Despite Mulan's Mooshu, Chinese dragons seem a bit too dignified for the kind of stuff you want from a dragon, ie, flying, breathing flames and the odd potion. Dragon Keeper may well change all that. Ping, its heroine, is a slave girl in charge of feeding two wretched Imperial Dragons. Kept in filthy captivity, half-starved and forgotten, they are the last of their kind. Soon after one of the pair dies, Ping hears the emperor sell his dragons to a dragon-hunter and, moved by her own desperation to survive as much as by compassion, they escape together.
What follows is the most captivating children's book I've seen so far this year. As Ping and the stubborn, mysterious dragon escape from the evil Diao, by flying, walking and sailing down the Yangstze River, they form a bond which changes them both. At all costs, the "stone" Ping found in the corner of the dragons' prison must be saved, for reasons that become obvious, but the dragon Danzi also teaches her wisdom - and how to count. The greed of the dragon hunter, who wants it only to sell its valuable organs could well stand for the ravages currently being wreaked on China's landscape; its heart-rending sufferings and patience in adversity bring out the best in Ping so that, having begun with only a rat for company she ends up entrusted with the most precious thing in the world. On the way to escaping to the Ocean, and the Isle of the Blest, they have many adventures but it is the spiritual journey which is most touching.