The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
What a lovely book. The Tea Dragon Society is a middle reader graphic novel, but certainly delightful for all ages. I’ve previously read Princess Princess Ever After, and this has a similar charm.
O’Neill’s art is whimsical and beautiful. The character reveal themselves, their intentions, and their relationships with each other through thoughtful design and pacing. The story unfolds with the art as critical as the writing itself.
The story centers around a young goblin named Greta. She’s training to be a blacksmith. The world around them has changed enough that blacksmiths are becoming less of a necessity in society and more of an artisan trade. Her mother teaches her this trade.
When Greta’s out and about, she saves Jasmine, a tea dragon, from being eaten by wolf-like creatures. Greta’s compassion shows in her actions. For she not only saves Jasmine, but feeds raw meat to the starving creatures. She knows her parents might be upset about “wasting” the meat, but she isn’t going to let a creature starve.
I adore that Greta’s able to have multiple interests. She may be shy when she first returns Jasmine to Hesekiel, Jasmine’s keeper, but she wants to learn how to care for tea dragons from Hesekiel and Erik, and she can continue to her blacksmithing practice. I was worried for a second that her parents would make her choose. Especially given how her mom emphasizes that Greta already agreed to take on Brick, her blacksmithing creature. Much like the tea dragons. Though O’Neill doesn’t explore Brick, and I was left with lots of questions.
Greta’s meeting with Minette was perfect. I loved how shy they were around each other, and how Greta never pushed Minette into even a friendship. (Though there’s certainly the beginnings of flirtations between them.) Minette’s greater story about how she ran away from priestess school, due to seeing too much of the future and then having memory problems, was incredibly well done. Greta’s confidence in Minette helps her be more brave in going to the market and knowing she can find her way home and also reaching out to her parents to let them know she’s fine.
O’Neill’s choice to set each part of the story in a different season and over a year’s time passes was also brilliant. It lets the relationships evolve slowly. It lets us glimpse into the type of time that Hese and Erik experience. It gives way to the mythology of tea dragons. Though they don’t seem as feisty as Hese or Erik claim them to be.
I adored the concept of how the tea dragons absorb the memories of their primary caretakers and how when their caretaker dies, they shed all their tea, as if to protect that person’s memories from abuse. It made for an extra special ceremony when Greta was able to learn more about her mentors and their lives together. It was also a sweet way to explore Hese’s and Erik’s past and their romance with each other.
I really hope O’Neill writes more tea dragon books. I’d love to see this world and society explored more. When Greta’s gifted Ginseng at the end, it’s clear there are other tea dragon caretakers in the world, who may still be alive, and O’Neill’s dragon appendix at the end speaks to ones we haven’t met.
The Tea Dragon Society is a must for those who love tea and queer romances. This is a great book for kids of all ages. Just charming, lovely, and soft.