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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
A Skin of a Dragon by Frances Jones is the first book in the Guild of Gatekeepers series. Tom's life was simple, but it was perfect to him. He was the son of a fisherman and a loving brother, full of curiosity. After he finds a box on the beach, he's kidnapped by a mysterious man named Emerson, who brings him to London where he comes face to face with a secret society of magicians. Tom is given a choice: he can die or he can join the guild as Emerson's successor. To save his life he'll have to sever all contact with his family and let them think he died. Tom meets fellow apprentice Eliza, and together the two uncover a dark secret the guild is hiding that could threaten the King, England, magic, and everyone they care about. Tom and Eliza set off on the seas in search of the long lost dragonskin before it falls into the wrong hands.
Frances Jones has a gift for bringing the past to life in this dazzling historical read with perfectly fitted dialogue and finer details that capture the liveliness and the scenery of the time period. Jones transports you into the past, pulling you into Tom's adventures. Tom and Eliza face many historical dangers, including robbers, kidnappers, and raging storms. The world has shadow horses and ghostly presences, but the real danger is from the people they encounter along the way. As they set out on a daring adventure to find the dragonskin, they encounter robbers wanting to take their boat and kidnappers wanting Eliza as a wife. Jones keeps the time period realistic and shows the grittiness of it while also weaving in a magical twist. Every instance of magic is suited to the world, always staying grounded in reality, but also never veering away from the danger and wonder magic can bring.
Tom and Eliza's friendship is at the heart of the story as they make each other stronger and protect each other from danger, not just from the guild but from the world. Tom was taken away from his family and forced to make the only decision he could to save his life so he's stumbling through their journey while desperately wanting to return home. This is different than Eliza who was raised by her father in the guild. They come from different backgrounds but they become fast friends and confidants, and through each other they find bravery and strength. A Skin of a Dragon is a brilliant historical fantasy with dazzling characters, a fight to save England, and a daring adventure across the sea.