The Dragon of Rome, (The Time-Tripping Faradays),(2014, 157 pages), is the second in a series of four books in which brother-sister pair Dawk and Hype time travel with their parents to different space-time locales. The beginning of this book has perhaps the most confusing episode of multiple confusing episodes in the novel.
The story opens with Hype wandering solo inside a sort of spaceship airport called the Alvarium. Clearly, this is many years in the future. She is musing about how she doesn’t like the reality video game that most of her peers like, Draggin’ Dragons. (Kids in this time period don’t have to actually sit by an electronic device to play the games, but can just tune their brains into them at will.) Suddenly, Hype is plunged into Draggin’ Dragons, although she didn’t choose to be there. Oh, the irony. Like a sufferer of an LSD flashback, she knows the dragon in front of her isn’t real, although it feels terrifyingly real. Fortunately, she has a guardian, Fizzbin. Fizzbin doesn’t “actually have a physical form, unless you count that of a tiny, flat computer chip known as Intelliboard, somewhere in the safety banks underneath the Alvarium.” He rescues her.
This book saves a lot of paper by bypassing the mechanics of time travel altogether, because after Fizzbin intervenes, Draggin’ Dragons fades away, and Hype finds herself on a couch in an apartment in ancient Rome, her family gathered around her. Wait, wha…? Her mother says, “When we get back from ancient Rome, I’m afraid you’re going to find yourself in serious trouble.” Wait, why? (Upon rereading, my best guess is that her family has just time traveled to Rome. But when her mom called, “Time to go!”, Hype didn’t answer because she was playing Draggin’ Dragons, so Fizzbin had to fetch her. Hypes’s mom was pissed because she thought Hype was gallivanting. But it’s murky.) Oh, and now Fizzbin is somewhere in Rome, too, but not visible.
In fact, Fizzbin is important because he pipes helpful info about ancient Rome into the heads of Dawk and Hype just when they need it most. As a device, I found this kind of clunky. However, it can be a challenge for an author to get historical background into a story, and Fizzbin’s comments did accomplish this.
Summary from Amazon:
There’s no such thing as the mythological beast called the dragon. Right? But when Dawk and Hype’s parents are transferred to their new temporal position in ancient Rome, the two teenagers meet Pliny, a man obsessed with dragons. And when they accompany Pliny on a trip outside of Rome’s walls, they even see one. But can it be real, or is there more to this beast than meets the eye?
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to say too much about the dragon. Suffice to say, it sleeps throughout much of the story, and as a mythological beast, it kinda disappoints.
For awhile, Dawk and Hype do get to work with Pliny who is putting together an encyclopedia, and those parts of the story are interesting. There are some other bits about ancient Roman rulers that I enjoyed. For the middle grade historical fiction fan who can’t get enough of ancient Rome, this might be a good read. Other folks, you can do better with a different time travel tale.
For more middle grade book reviews follow links on Shannon Messenger’s blog.