Indigenous Fantasy in To Shape a Dragon's Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

To Shape a Dragon's Breath book laying on a bamboo with two sheep figurines
Wallace and Gromit are a little nervous around the dragons.

Can’t get enough of indigenous inspired fantasy!

I kept hearing about To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose in bookish communities, so I was happy when it was my turn at the library.

For a little synopsis, the story is about Anequs, a fifteen-year-old from the island of Masquapaug. When she finds a rare dragon egg on the island, she’s forced to go to go to school on the mainland or risk losing her dragon and endangering her people. Settled by the Anglish, who see her and her people as backward savages, Anequs is thrown into a hostile environment but she’s determined to keep her identity and return to her people.

It’s a coming of age story wrapped in an indigenous, settler-colonial alternate history fantasy. First, the world is fascinating. It’s based on Earth, but in an alternate history with magic and dragons and in the mid 1800’s. There’s a great map at the front of the book. It has steampunk vibes, and a well thought out magic system for the dragons.

Second, the characters are fantastic. All the characters are distinct, and unsurprisingly she ends up hanging out with the misfits and they form their own little group. Also, there’s lovely queer representation with Anequs as bi/pan and what I would call ethically non-monogamous. There’s a Black lesbian character she keeps flirting with and a white lesbian who expects her to conform to societal expectations (very on the nose). The cast is diverse, with neurodivergent representation as well.

What’s fascinating about this book is Anequs, a character whose story isn’t about her metamorphosis, but about how she changes the people around her. While there’s extensive plot, it’s a character-driven story focused on interpersonal relationships and the clash of civilizations.

Anyone who likes fantasy and world building will like this book. If you’re looking for a magical world, that’s not Greek or Roman inspired with strong indigenous characters who rise up in the face of adversity, this is the book for you.

So much so, I picked up Black Sun after this one.

/rae ryan