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Literature / Dragonkeeper
aka: Dragon Keeper Trilogy

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Dragonkeeper is a series of historical fantasy children's novels, written by Australian author Carole Wilkinson and set in Ancient China. The series consists of seven books, including two trilogies that tell complete stories and a prequel.

The first trilogy is set in China's Han Dynasty and revolves around a young slave girl named Ping who discovers she is a Dragonkeeper and must protect Long Danzi, one of the last living dragons, and later his son Kai too. The second trilogy, set over four centuries later, revolves around Kai searching for a new Dragonkeeper and meeting a young novice monk named Tao who may fit the bill.

The books (in order of publication):

  • Dragonkeeper (2003)
  • Garden of the Purple Dragon (2005)
  • Dragon Moon (2007)
  • Dragon Dawn (prequel; 2008)
  • Blood Brothers (2012)
  • Shadow Sisters (2014)
  • Bronze Bird Tower (2017)

Not to be confused with the Dragon Keeper Chronicles or the first book in Robin Hobb's The Rain Wild Chronicles.

Tropes found in this series include:

  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Dragonkeeper ends with the egg hatching, but Danzi and a mortally-wounded Hua leaving Ping to travel to the Blessed Isle(although Hua returns in the next book). Not to mention Ping leaving with Danza has potentially soured her friendship with the current Emperor.
    • Dragon Moon, and thus the first trilogy as a whole. Ping gives up being a Dragonkeeper and leaves Kai to live with wild dragons; it's unlikely they'll ever meet again. But Ping knows that Kai will be safe and happy with own kind away from those that would exploit him, and she herself gets a chance to start a new life of her own choosing.
  • The Caligula: Emperor Liu Che descends into this during Garden of the Purple Dragon, culminating in him betraying Ping and torturing Kai in an attempt to become immortal.
  • Character Development: Ping undergoes quite a bit. In Dragonkeeper, 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.
    • Subverted with the selfish and ambitious Emperor Liu Che.
  • The Chosen One: Ping learns she is a Dragonkeeper, a rare person who can harness qi (chi) to perform magic and communicate with dragons. Usually, Dragonkeepers are descended from one of two families (Ping has no knowledge of her family) and Ping is also considered unusual because all previous known Dragonkeepers were men. Some people don't even believe Ping could be a real Dragonkeeper because she's a girl, but she carries all the typical traits of a Dragonkeeper and there's no arguing with destiny. The second book reiterates that Ping is the rightful Dragonkeeper, despite what Jun's family might have people believe.
  • Distant Sequel: Blood Brothers takes place close to four hundred years after Dragon Moon, after the Han Dynasty has fallen.
  • Dragon Rider: Ping from time to time; Danzi is large enough for her to sit on his back when he flies, though due to his great age and weariness, they can't fly together over vast distances.
  • Easily Forgiven: Kai forgives the emperor for torturing him.
  • Egg MacGuffin: In the first book, the seemingly magical gemstone Danzi is taking with him to the ocean and demands that Ping protect at all costs turns out to be a dragon egg; it hatches at the end of Dragonkeeper and the story then shifts to Ping caring for Danzi's child.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Liu Che makes a few comments in Dragonkeeper 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 Danzi, Ping chooses one with fewer cargo, but Danzi 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.
  • Heel Realization: The Emperor at the beginning of Dragon Moon.
  • Historical Fantasy: The books are set in Ancient China, in which fantastical elements of Chinese mythology and folklore are presented as very real, albeit uncommon. The prequel is set in 282 BC, the first trilogy is set in the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) and the second trilogy begins in 328 AD.
  • 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; he's been known by many different names over the centuries.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Ping, a girl barely more than 11 years old, is best friends with Danzi, an ancient dragon who is centuries old.
  • Karma Houdini: As far as we know, the girlfriend of the previous, love-struck dragon keeper who sold out the dragons' sanctuary in Dragon Moon, suffered no known consequences for her betrayal.
  • Kid Hero: Ping, who is around eleven years old in Dragonkeeper and around thirteen by the end of Dragon Moon.
  • Lazy Bum: Master Lan. For someone who was supposed to be the Dragonkeeper, he neglected his duty for years, up until he dumped his responsibility on Ping on the flimsy excuse that his knees were bad.
  • Made a Slave: Ping has been a slave for as long as she can remember, though she wasn't born a slave and has vague memories of her old life.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship: The bond between dragons and their keepers is this trope; Dragonkeepers have normal human lifespans, while dragons can live over a thousand years.
  • Magic is Evil: Inverted: Danzi explicitly mentions that sorcerers are not bad people, however, necromancers are.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Amusingly 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 Dragonkeeper, and for the rest of the series seeks her out and helps her.
    • Ping in Garden of the Purple Dragon after she let her doubts about being Kai's keeper thanks to Jun 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.
  • Name Amnesia: For the first few chapters of Dragonkeeper, Ping is referred to only as "the slave girl" or "the girl" because she can't remember her name; she was very young when she was taken from her family and her master never bothered with it. Danzi eventually informs her that her name is Ping, which is inscribed on the bamboo necklace that is all she has left of her family.
  • Never My Fault: Strongly implied with Master Lan when confronted by the Emperor. Ping being framed as a sorceress was the result of Master Lan not owning up that one dragon under his care died of misery/neglect (and was pickled) by his own hands.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Hua the rat is the loyal companion of Ping.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons here are heavily based upon Chinese dragons (obviously, given the setting). They have long serpent-like bodies, leonine heads and whiskers, four legs and paws; they're sapient, literate, mostly benevolent, can shapeshift and so on. However, rather than being divine or semi-divine beings, they're presented more as just a rare, highly-intelligent and magic-using species of animal. They have a bit of influence from Western dragons in that they have a pair of leathery wings they use to fly (as opposed to flying with magic); they keep these wings folded close to their bodies when they're not in use, so they can go unnoticed and give the impression they're wingless.
  • Parental Substitute: Ping to Kai; his mother died before he hatched and his ailing father left to travel across the ocean, leaving Kai in Ping’s care. She’s the one who raises and teaches him.
  • Purple Is Powerful: Kai the baby dragon has purple scales and is Unskilled, but Strong. It’s subverted later; as he grows his purple scales turn green like his father’s, though he becomes even more powerful.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ping delivers a scathing 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 genuinely likes her, she turns him down because he previously betrayed her and hurt Kai, and she knows 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, 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 Dragonkeeper 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.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: A gender-flipped example. Danzi's mate dies early in Dragonkeeper, but she had laid their egg before her death and Danzi is devoted to protecting their unborn child.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Hua, a humble rat, develops the ability to shoot fireballs as of the second book.
    • Ping. It takes guts to go from a child slave running in fear to a qi-wielding Dragonkeeper who will call out the Emperor, the living representation of God, all before attaining adulthood.
    • Jun . At first a child fraud coerced by his parents to pose as a Dragonkeeper and starting as an Unwitting Pawn, he helps to rescue Ping 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.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Before travelling across the ocean, Danzi entrusts Ping with raising his son Kai.
  • Unequal Rites: Necromancers and Sorcerers are not the same thing.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Dragons have this ability, including shapeshifting into objects and people. The older and more experienced they are, the longer they can retain a shape, though it takes a lot of energy and concentration to maintain a different form for long periods.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: After Wang Cao essentially betrays and runs away with Danza, Ping continue to live in luxury in the Emperor's palace. Although Ping has often entertained the idea of living in luxury like her superiors, she finds herself not only too grief-stricken at her absent friend to enjoy it, she partially misses the independence that came with travelling the countryside.
  • 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 to eat it, though even so…
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It’s unclear 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 Dragonkeeper. On the other hand, since he lost Danzi, it's most likely he won't be keeping his position for very long.
  • 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, at a great personal cost, seeks out Ping and Kai to help them 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, Danzi 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. This is solidified in Garden of the Purple Dragon, where it’s confirmed she is indeed a real Dragonkeeper despite others’ doubts. She even marvels how amazing it is that someone as humble as her could possess such merit.

Alternative Title(s): Dragon Keeper Trilogy