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Literature / Dragon Keeper Trilogy

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The Dragon Keeper Trilogy are a three book series written by Carole Wilkinson. Set in Ancient China, the trilogy consist of Dragon Keeper, Garden of the Purple Dragon, and Dragon Moon, with a small prequel story "Dragon Dawn".

Dragon Keeper opens with Ping (and her pet rat, Hua) working as a slave under Master Lan, the man responsible for taking care of the Emperor's dragons. After one of the two dragons die from neglect, Master Lan blames Ping and tell the Emperor that she is an evil sorceress. The Emperor sends soldiers to capture and execute Ping, but she manages to escape along with the last remaining dragon, Long Danzi, and the mysterious Dragon Stone. Which is totally not in any way a dragon egg. Hunted not only by imperial soldiers, but also by dragon hunters, Ping and Danzi embark on a journey to reach Ocean, a place where Danzi will finally be safe from humanity. They do reach Ocean, at which point Danzi leaves Ping with the freshly hatched Dragon Stone.

In Garden of the Purple Dragon, Ping (and Hua who can now spit fireballs) attempts to raise Kai, the dragon that hatched from the Dragon Stone. After being attacked by a necromancer, they are captured by Imperial soldiers and taken to the Emperor, Liu Che . . . who promptly drops all charges against her and welcomes her into his court. While there, a boy named Jun is brought into the Emperor's service as the true Dragon Keeper. It is later revealed that he is a fraud. Later, after nearly being assassinated, Ping discovers that Liu Che has aligned himself with the necromancer from earlier, and that they are bleeding Kai in an attempt to create an elixir of immortality.. With Liu Che's permission, the necromancer attempts to sacrifice Ping. However, she kills him instead. Afterwards, she flees the palace with Kai (Hua leaves them to be with his own kind), and accepts the offer of a Princess she previously befriended to live in their home.


Dragon Moon opens with Liu Che's troops attacking the palace where Ping now lives. Fearing for Kai's safety, she and him flee in search of the Dragon Haven, a legendary place that is, you guessed it, a safe haven for dragons.

Not to be confused with the novel of the same name by Robin Hobb.

These books provide examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • You send your child away after hearing she has a gift with dragons, and you never know that she was Made a Slave
    • Your mate dies, and you are trying to keep your baby alive in egg form and have to trust a child to do the job.
    • Your emperor starts out as a nice guy, if a bit misdirected, who eventually goes on a mad dream that nearly gets you and your dragon charge killed. It gets to the point where even when he becomes genuinely apologetic that you can no longer trust him, and reluctantly accept his help.
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  • The Atoner: After the events of Garden of the Purple Dragon, Jun becomes this, knowing that he willingly aided in dethroning Ping from her position as Kai's guardian and nearly getting her killed. He follows her for as long as he can in Dragon Moon, waits for her to return from the sanctuary where she leaves Kai, and eventually proposes marriage.
  • Berserk Button: You'll trigger it if you mess with Ping's friends, and vice versa.
    • Never mention the word "slave" around Ping....ever.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dragon Keeper ends with the egg hatching, but Danzi and a mortally-wounded Hua leave Ping (although Hua returns in the next book). Dragon Moon ends with Ping leaving Kai with the other dragons and marrying Jun.
  • But Now I Must Go: Danzi to Ping in Dragon Keeper, and Ping to Kai in Dragon Moon.
  • The Caligula: Emperor Liu Che during Garden of the Purple Dragon.
  • Character Development: In Dragon Keeper, Ping's black-and-white view on the world changes after she chases down a thief, only to find he and his family are desperate and starving. Feeling sympathy, Ping allows them to keep the spoils, and leaves Chang'an with an understanding that grey areas do exist.
    • Ping also has a negative experience after the seemingly good-natured Jiang Bing turns out to be a spy for the necromancer. From it, she learns that while kindness and politeness are good, she has to be more careful who she trusts in the future.
  • Children Are Innocent: Kai as he grows into adulthood. Subverted with the jaded, savvy Ping and the selfish and ambitious Emperor Liu Che.
  • The Chosen One: Ping is the rightful Dragon Keeper. Despite what Jun might have people believe.
  • Easily Forgiven: Kai forgives the emperor for torturing him.
  • Foreshadowing: Liu Che makes a few comments in Dragon Keeper about how he is searching for a way to extend his life ... Come Garden of the Purple Dragon, and he is harvesting Kai's blood in a attempt to make an elixir of immortality.
    • When choosing a boatman to escort her and Danza, Ping chooses one with fewer cargo, but Danza disapproves that perhaps it indicates the boatman who owns the boat could be dishonest. This is a tiny red flag of Jiang Bing's untrustworthiness and her association with the necromancer.
  • Forgiveness: It takes an entire book, but Ping finally is able to forgive Jun for taking her place as Kai's keeper when he helps her find the dragon sanctuary, keeps her safe, and waits for her to return from the sanctuary.
  • Functional Magic: There's a whole magical society.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The reason why Ping and Company have to move around so much.
    • Subverted with most country folk in Dragon Keeper.
  • I Am Dying Please Take My Macguffin: Subverted, then eventually played straight. When Danzi goes to the Island of the Blessed, he leaves Ping the Dragon Stone. In Dragon Moon, Ping seems fully convinced that Danzi died of old age during her time at Yan when he stopped visiting her dreams.
  • I Have Many Names: Danzi says this pretty much word for word.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The dragons in the story are Chinese Dragons, as opposed to the European kind.
  • Heel Realization: The Emperor at the beginning of Dragon Moon.
  • Immortality Seeker: Liu Che
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Ping, a girl barely more than 11 years old, is best friends with Danzi, an ancient dragon who is centuries old.
  • Jerkass: Ping's old master Lan embodies this trope.
    • Liu Che eventually devolves into this.
  • Karma Houdini: As far as we know, the girlfriend of the previous, love-struck dragon keeper sold out the dragons' sanctuary in Dragon Moon, and there's no known indication if she suffered any consequences for her betrayal.
  • Lazy Bum: Master Lan. For someone who was supposed to be the dragon keeper, he neglected his duty for years, up until he dumped his responsibility on Ping on the flimsy excuse that his knees were bad.
  • MacGuffin: The Dragon stone and even more so when it hatches.
  • Made a Slave: Ping in the beginning of Dragon Keeper.
  • Magic Is Evil: Inverted: Danzi explicitly mentions that sorcerers are not bad people, however, necromancers are.
  • Mama Bear: Ping towards Hua and Kai.
  • Meaningful Name: Averted with Ping, who is disappointed to learn that her name means "duckweed". Played straight with Long Danzi whose name means "Courageous Dragon".
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, Ping believes Liu Che has crossed this after she discovers he is harvesting Kai's blood.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jun after Ping is abandoned, and then nearly killed by a necromancer. After this he shows her that he is a fraud, which means she is the real Dragon Keeper, and for the rest of the series seeks her out and helps her.
  • Never My Fault: Strongly implied to be what Master Lan told the Emperor. Ping being framed as a sorceress was the result of Master Lan not owning up that one dragon died of misery/neglect (and was pickled) by his own hands.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Hua to Ping.
  • Parental Substitute: Ping to Kai.
  • Purple Is Powerful: Kai the small, purple dragon.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ping delivers a scathing, satisfying one to Emperor Liu Che after she saves his life, pointing out that he's only apologetic because he suffered a Break the Haughty. No apology can make up for him hurting Kai, and if he wants to be a good emperor he can't treat people like tools.
  • Redemption Earns Life: Ironically, during his quest to seek immortality and becoming a Jerkass, Emperor Liu Che only starts to change his attitude when he nearly dies in Dragon Moon and Ping saves him.
  • Rejected Apology: Ping to the Emperor after she saves his life in Dragon Moon because as she puts it, he's only sorry now that he's suffered Break the Haughty. She also turns down his marriage proposal.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted. Although Emperor Liu Che proposes to Ping after she saves him, partly as an act of redemption and partly because he likes her, she turns him down because of what he did to Kai, and knowing a royal life isn't meant for her.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Huangling Mountain unto itself serves as a symbolism of Lan's toxic mistreatment towards Ping. Everything there, from the farm animals to the plants, can scarcely grow, symbolizing how Lan's abuse is stunting Ping's personal and intellectual growth. After leaving Huangling Mountain, Ping discovers all sorts of healthy trees and plants and animals thriving in the wild, signifying how freedom from her awful master has started to nurture her growth.
  • Save the Villain: Ping saves the Emperor Liu Che after finding him half-dead in his chariot. More notable is that if she had let him die, he wouldn't have been hunting her or Kai, which everyone realizes.
  • Shadow Archetype: Had Ping accepted Emperor Liu Che's marriage proposal, there's a chance she would've repeated history and ended up like the previous Dragon Keeper who fell in love with a girl and gave over his dragon to her.
  • Ship Sinking: In Dragon Moon, Emperor Liu Che proposes to Ping after she saves his life. She turns him down because of what he did to Kai, and because she knows she's not meant to be an empress.
  • Small, Annoying Creature: Ping sees Kai as this at first but soon she grows to love him and fiercely protect him.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Hua develops the ability to shoot fireballs.
    • Ping. It takes guts to go from a child slave running in fear to a Dragon Keeper who will call out the Emperor, the living representation of God, all before attaining adulthood.
    • Jun as well. At first a child fraud coerced by his parents to pose as a Dragon Keeper and starting as an Unwitting Pawn, he helps to rescue her from the necromancer, reveals that he was using berries to win Kai's affection, and then for the rest of Dragon Moon seeks her out to keep her and Kai safe. All the while revealing that he has an eye for silk.
  • Unequal Rites: Necromancers and Sorcerers are not the same thing.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Dragons are weak to iron, centipedes, china berries and five-colored thread. Only the centipedes is actually logical- they sometimes climb up a dragons ear and into it's brain and promptly eats it. Still...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So what became of Master Lan after Ping and Danzi escaped? On one hand, he blamed Ping and framed her for selling and killing the Imperial Dragons, so that makes him a Karma Houdini for all of his past abuse towards Ping and negligence of the dragons, not to mention his mooching off the position as Imperial Dragon Keeper. On the other hand, since he lost Danzi, it's most likely he won't be keeping his position for very long.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ping gives this to herself in Garden of the Purple Dragon on how she let her doubts about being Kai's keeper thanks to Jin being a Red Herring get in the way of her duties. In all fairness, however, she is a child and had no idea what to do.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • In the beginning of Dragon Moon, Ping finds a half-dead Emperor Liu Che, who was abandoned by his men during a great battle. She could easily leave him, and it would in fact be the most rational course of action. She saves his life, talks back to him when he attempts to apologize, and tells him how to attain sanctuary.
    • Jun also at a great personal cost seeks out Ping and Kai to help her during The Garden of the Purple Dragon and Dragon Moon despite the fact that she has no reason to trust him given he nearly usurped her position as Kai's keeper and he is technically committing treason against the Emperor.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Throughout their journey, Danza helps Ping realize she's not the insignificant, simpleton slave that her abusive master made her believe she was. Thanks to the wise old dragon, Ping uncovers her potential intelligence and independence. So much so that it's revealed she's a true dragon keeper. Ping even marvels how amazing it is that someone as humble as her could possess such merit.

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