Goodreads: A Hint of Hydra
Series: Lailu Loganberry #2
Published: July 10, 2018
Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu Loganberry must stop a war between the elves and scientists in this follow-up to A Dash of Dragon, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a recipe for success.”
It’s the Week of Masks, a festival held to chase away evil spirits. But Lailu doesn’t have time to worry about demons. She has bigger fish to fry—or rather, griffons, now that she’s been asked to prepare a mystical feast for the king’s executioner, Lord Elister.
Unfortunately Lailu’s meal is overshadowed by the scientists’ latest invention: automatons, human-shaped machines that will respond to their masters’ every order. Most people are excited by the possibilities, but the mechanical men leave Lailu with a bad taste in her mouth.
Even worse, the elves still blame the scientists for the attacks on them weeks ago, and Lailu worries that the elves might be cooking up revenge. So when she and her sorta-rival-turned-almost-friend Greg stumble across the body of a scientist, the elves are the prime suspects. With help from Greg, her best friend Hannah, and the sneaky, winking spy Ryon, Lailu has to discover the truth behind the murder, and soon—because hostilities between the elves and the scientists are about to boil over faster than hydra stew.
And just ask any chef: war is bad for business.
(Krysta reviewed book one in the series for the blog, and you can read her review of A Dash of Dragon here .)
I didn’t review A Dash of Dragon for the blog, but I enjoyed the characters, world building, and even the crazy plot line enough that I jumped at the chance to read the sequel when I saw it at the library. While the motivations and actions of the characters are still a bit unclear in this installment, a criticism Krysta leveled at A Dash of Dragon, I couldn’t help but find that all the craziness really made me think.
Basically, although I read the book because I think it’s entertaining and like the idea of a young chef running a top restaurant while also becoming involved with national intrigue, I kept reading because so much of it seems unique in middle grade, and I started thinking a lot about side points in the book.
First, I find the idea that protagonist cooks mystical creatures like dragon, griffin, hydra, etc. as “exotic food” really interesting. This is a world where few people eat dragon basically because dragons are hard to kill. However, none of the magical creatures eaten are the anthropomorphic, wise ones you get in other books. Indeed, a lot of them are basically pests, and Lailu and her fellow chefs are doing citizens a favor by hunting some down and turning them into tasty dishes. The book tries to be responsible about discussing hunting and the ethics of killing animals, but I was also just fascinated by the idea of a world where magical creatures are both awe-inspiring (you often need a hero to kill them when they’re menaces) but also kind of boring (people regularly eat them when possible).
Second, I am fascinated by the magic vs. science narrative in the book. The plot line is somewhat convoluted and would be difficult to explain in a review, particularly without giving spoilers, but the gist is that the scientists (basically a new phenomenon in Lailu’s country) are feuding with the elves. It would be so easy for the authors to make one of these sides “bad” and have a “science is the way of the future” narrative or a “the world needs magic” narrative. However, they don’t do this. In fact, there are so many villains on both sides and so many misuses of both science and magic that you can’t even say the message is that “science and magic both have their place.” Well, the book does point out good on each side, but the whole issue is more complicated than one would think, and I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what the book is trying to say about science and magic.
Admittedly, I was actually put off by this at first because I couldn’t tell if the science vs. magic think was complicated because the authors are trying to say something nuanced or if it’s complicated because the authors are nuts and threw a bunch of plot points at the page that sound dramatic but don’t really make much sense in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, however, the English major in me decided it didn’t matter what the authors intended to do: if the book says something interesting, it says something interesting, even if it’s “accidental” and the authors weren’t aiming for it at all.
This book series isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot of fun with all the drama and spying and intrigue and murder and explosions. I like the characters, and I like the adventures they go on. Most of all, however, I like that a book got me thinking about representations of mythical creatures in fantasy and representations of confrontations between science and magic in fictional worlds.