Review: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson
Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“There’s no arguing with the heart, because the heart is the highest law there is. No matter if that heart is twisted and tiny and evil, or if the heart is hideously deformed and huge and sensitive.”
Despite weekly private lessons with the mad scientist Dr. Terrible, Gork is at the bottom of his class at WarWings Academy, the elite school for young dragons. Gork’s whole story is told throughout the events of Crown Day – the most important day of a young dragon’s life, where he must chose a mate to be his Queen. If she accepts, they will both be assigned a foreign planet to lay eggs on and conquer. If she rejects him, he will be forever a slave to another dragon forever. So yeah, it’s pretty much just like the human high school experience, emotionally speaking. Gork navigates this day with his best friend Fribby, a menacing robot dragon, and his organic spaceship, ATHENOS II, defeating bullies, nefarious professors, and more.
Gork The Teenage Dragon is by far one of the most unique books I have ever read. I guarantee you have never read anything quite like this quirky, yet oddly profound novel. It is all told from Gork’s perspective throughout a single day, and is told in present tense, with flashbacks to both his youth (he was born on Planet Earth, and has a lot to say about man-creature’s perceptions of dragons) as well as his time at WarWings leading up to the all-important Crown Day. The way the story is told keeps the reader right inside the action. And there is a lot of action. Poor Gork just wants to ask his crush Runcita to Harvest Fest and for her to be his Queen, but he has to fight off a hoard of enemies just to get to her. He barely has a moment to rest, and the non-stop fighting and action managed to keep me engaged.
In fact,Gork is so full of action, and as a result, full of blood and gore, that I am a bit baffled as to why this book is marketed as for children. “[He] never even knew what hit him. I’m guessing the whole experience was kind of painless. He smashes into the far wall of the gym and explodes in a gush of blood. [He] is simply no more. It’s pretty repulsive.” Okay, yes, this is a book about dragons, and some of them are robots, not fully living creatures, but repulsive, indeed. I am not one to be easily grossed out, but I couldn’t help but think of how it would be viewed differently if this book was about humans being torn to pieces (which, ultimately, because we the readers are humans, it is).
The book is also damn funny. If I see a book that is advertised as “laugh-out-loud funny”, I stay the hell away from it. Because they are usually is not funny at all. (I admit I have a strange sense of humor, but still.) But Gork had me giggling, or at least smiling, every few pages or so. Reading on the couch with my boyfriend, I would start chuckling and force him to listen to me to read sections out loud (he loves it). One of my favorite parts were the ridiculously long and descriptive chapter titles, like: “Now Let Me Get Back To The Main Story I Was Telling You About, In Terms Of How This Robot Trenx Is Saying That Dr. Terrible Just Gave Him A New Spaceship Called ATHENOS III”. Oh Gork, you are so easily distracted and awkward, just like me. He also loved to hate on himself, which was sometimes sad, always relatable, but usually hilarious: “I mean you know you’re in bad shape when you’ve got a headless Mutant feeling sorry for you.”
However, the reason I loved this book so much was because of how much hidden depth it had…if you looked hard enough. Sure, you could read this book in a day and take it as an action-packed tale of nasty dragons that shoot firestreams and live in outer space, but there are alsomany lessons to take away. (I also have an entire theory on how almost all of the characters are the Harry Potter characters in a different dimension, which you can message me about if you want to get really geeky. I wish I were joking.)
First, let’s take a look at one of the book’s villians: Dean Floop, Principal of WarWings Academy, father of Gork’s queen-t0-be Runcita, and consequently Gork’s mortal enemy. But if you’re paying attention, he is much more than that. Dean Floop has a reputation for being “firestream-happy” , as in, he likes to publicly execute his students and fellow faculty. Which isn’t that unusual for WarWings, where only the strongest students survive…I mean, these dragons are ruthless. Propose to a dragoness that’s more powerful than you and she burn you to a crisp. But the reasons behind Floop’s killing sprees are terrifying, because they seem to echo our own world more than just coincidentally. Without over-complicating or spoiling anything, Floop basically starts killing off journalist dragons who have uncovered the truth, followed by militant dictatorship actions like media blackouts and no-fly zones. Any of this sound familiar?! It’s unclear whether Hudson intended these parallels to our world or not, but they were impossible for me to not pick up.
There is also some possible commentary on species elitism. This I might not have picked up on if I hadn’t listened to Gabe Hudson read The Frog Prince by Robert Coover on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (highly recommended, obviously). Summed up, it’s a short story about a frog that becomes a human, but really just prefers to be a frog in the mud after he realizes being human isn’t all that great. After the reading, Hudson discussed with the host about how humans always see themselves as the best species on the planet. The dragons on Blegwethia definitely share this viewpoint; humans exist in this story but are viewed as pathetic creatures waiting to be conquered and enslaved by dragons. This passage in particular sums up how dragons feel about us:
“Recently there’ve been rumors around WarWings that some of the dragon professors […] have discovered a way to clone humans. […] Honestly, I don’t think any of us dragons care one way or the other about the prospect of bringing the man-creature species back […] Though I hear they might make good pets.”
Gork is a character I will never forget. I never would have guessed that a goofy dragon, his robot best friend Fribby, and his motherly, organic spaceship would impact me so much. I admit that I might have gotten a bit teary during ATHENOS’s speech at the end. Like every good epic tale, there are morals and lessons to be taken out of this bizarre tale:
“The hero and the coward both feel afraid. It’s the hero whose actions are different.”
“Your weakness is your strength […] and your weakness is where you can find your greatest power.”
“’What about this big stupid heart of mine? And the crying? And the fainting? Fribby, I’m a mess.’
‘It takes courage to be so real. You’re not like these other fools running around here. You’re different.’”
HUGE thank you to Dani T. at Knopf, who reached out to me and sent me an e-arc of Gork via NetGalley. This has not impacted my review in any way.
Please note that all quotes are from an advanced copy and may not be in the final version.
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