G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers: In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

Shatter the Sky

Back before the Empire, when the Verran people settled Ilvera, they bonded with native dragons, "creating a society neither human nor dragon, but somewhere in-between." Then the emperor, the Flame of the West, invaded, stealing all of the dragons, "tearing out the mountain's beating heart" and sweeping a reluctant Ilvera into the Empire. Generations later, Maren loves her life on the "dragon mountain" in Ilvera, but her girlfriend, Kaia, is eager for the pair to travel "downmountain" and explore. Kaia dreams that they'll meet the "the Flame of the West himself" and be given dragons. Maren knows that "the tyrant" will "never grant a dragon to a girl from Ilvera," but Kaia is determined, so Maren will go, "even if it cost[s her] the mountain." But when the emperor's Aurati seers arrive on their customary pilgrimage, "doling out prophecies and counting up the emperor's subjects," they abruptly steal Kaia away. Knowing that "no one taken ha[s] ever returned," Maren comes up with "an impossible idea": she'll find a dragon that has not yet formed its unbreakable bond with anyone else, and storm the Aurati stronghold to get Kaia back.

Rebecca Kim Wells has crafted a top-notch dragon story. Her fantasy worldbuilding is excellent, the plot anchored by a strong young woman who feels both nuanced and real. The story builds momentum until its breathtaking finish, concluding the episode while leaving larger issues unresolved and ready to be picked up in the second installment of this promised duology. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI