|Cover artist||Blue Boat Design|
|Genre||Folktale and adventure novel|
|Publisher||Black Dog Books|
|Followed by||Garden of the Purple Dragon|
Dragonkeeper is a children's fantasy novel by Australian author Carole Wilkinson. It is the first book of the Dragonkeeper trilogy. Ping is a slave girl from an evil master. The second book is Garden of the Purple Dragon, first published in 2005, and the third Dragon Moon, first published in 2007. There is also a prequel to the original Dragonkeeper novel called Dragon Dawn. Dragonkeeper won several Australian awards, including the 2003 Aurealis Award for best young-adult novel.
The novel is set in ancient China, during the Han Dynasty. A slave girl saves the life of an aging dragon and escapes her brutal master. Pursued by a ruthless dragon hunter, the girl and the dragon make an epic journey across China carrying a mysterious stone that must be protected. This is a story of a young slave girl who believes she is not worthy of a name but finds within herself that the strength and courage to make this perilous journey, and do what must be done.
In the far western mountains of the Han Empire in ancient China, an aging dragon, his wife (who soon dies), and a young slave girl are used, abused and neglected by the cruel Master Lan. Nameless and alone, the slave girl is without hope and her only friend is her pet rat, Hua. After one of the last remaining Imperial Dragons, the mate of the aging one, suddenly dies, the slave girl feels guilty and responsible. She is forced to pickle the dragon for her slave master, Lan, and finds her guilt growing. She finds herself coming to the last dragon, Danzi. The two escape, but when the emperor finds out that his other dragons are dead, Master Lan blames it on her and she finds herself chased by the imperial guards, who believe she is an evil sorceress. The dragon, Long Danzi (meaning courageous dragon), tells the slave girl her true name: Ping (meaning duckweed). Ping and the dragon must go on a dangerous journey across China to Ocean, an apparent magical healing place. She must protect a mysterious stone that is vital to the dragon's legacy. A necromancer and a dragon hunter named Diao, who are determined to kill the dragon and take the dragon's stone, are chasing her and the dragon. While traveling with Danzi, Ping learns many things that will, in time, help her with her struggles. Ping also learns the value of friendship and courage and discovers her destiny as a Dragon Keeper. She befriends the young emperor, Liu Che, and gets accustomed to life at Ming Yang Lodge. Long Danzi abandons Ping for Wang Cao, suddenly mistrusting his instinct that she was a Dragon Keeper. Ping chases after him, but after they are reunited, they have to fight Diao, who injured Hua, and killed Wang Cao. After killing the Dragon hunter, they go to the Ocean. After reaching the ocean, Danzi tells Ping he must go over Ocean to reach a river of life and will take Hua, who was hurt by Diao, with him, so that the river can heal them both. The stone (now found to be an egg) hatches into a purple baby dragon. Before Danzi leaves, he gives the baby a name: Long Kai Duan. Ping is now left alone with the baby dragon, the last and the first.
- Ping, a slave girl who was the first ever female Dragon Keeper. She was nameless before she met Long Danzi.
- Hua, a rat Ping carries around with her. Her only friend before she meets Long Danzi. Danzi disliked Hua until Hua ate a centipede that crawled into Danzi's ear.
- Long Danzi, an ancient green dragon; the last wild imperial dragon in the Han Empire. He travels with Ping to the ocean where he takes a mysterious stone, but he won't explain to Ping what it is. His name means 'courageous dragon'
- Long Kai Duan, a baby dragon, son of Long Danzi and Lu Yu. The dragon stone is the egg of Kai. His name means 'Beginning'
- Lu Yu, The wife of Danzi who died early in the book from misery, also the mother of Kai.
- Master Lan, Ping's master, a lazy and cruel man, fake Imperial Dragon Keeper
- Diao, Dragon Hunter Diao, who hunts Long Danzi throughout the novel for the dragon's body and his stone (the dragon egg).
- Wang Cao, a herbalist who used to be Long Danzi's companion until they were separated by dragon hunters. Wang Cao and his father were only partial Dragon Keepers, as they didn't have all of the signs.
- Jiang Bing, a boat woman secretly working with "The Necromancer".
- "The Necromancer", Necromancer who had possession of Long Danzi's stone and has an evil desire for it. He acquires it from Diao after Ping and Long Danzi lose it.
- Liu Che, Young Emperor of China and Ping's friend for a short while. His father died after eating the Dragon Pickle of Lu Yu, Danzi's mate who died because of misery like most of the other imperial dragons.
- 2003 Best Young Adult Book Aurealis Awards - winner.
- 2004 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year (Younger Readers) - winner.
- 2004 Queensland Premier's Literary Best Children's Book Award - winner.
- 2004 NSW Premier's Literary Awards - shortlist.
- 2006 Kids Own Australian Literary Awards (KOALA) Older Readers - winner.
- 2006 Kalbacher Klapperschlange Award (Germany) - winner.
- 2006 Canberra's Own Outstanding List (COOL) Award - shortlist.
- Official Dragonkeeper homepage
- Publisher's microsite for the Dragonkeeper series
- Publisher's Dragonkeeper page
- How to be a Dragonkeeper: Inspired by the novel