Dragonhaven did not make me think of dragons or anything fantasy-related when I read the first page. It puzzled me--why would a story about dragons start off with what looks like a here-and-now story about a teenager? But don't judge this book by its first page: it will definitely draw you in.
Dragonhaven starts off in the present--this present, our present for all intents and purposes except with dragons--and on the second page, we learn that this book is the story of what happened to the narrator 5-ish years ago. (Didn't I tell you not to judge by the first page?) And it really makes you want to find out, because he (the narrator) is telling this story: it's not written as a story of some guy, it's the story written by some guy who apparently had something BIG happen to him, that the world knows about and he's writing this story to set the record straight.
It takes a minute to actually figure out what the story is, or at least, where it begins. as a reader, I was very eager after reading the first few pages to find out about everything the narrator was referencing and promising to talk about. While it was a good draw, it was also frustrating because, obviously, I had no idea what he was talking about. I can safely tell you that if you start on page four [of the hardback] where the story actually starts, you won't miss anything and you won't be left wondering who Lois and Martha are and why the heck this guy keeps talking about writing a book.
Once you get into the actual story, it's very engaging. Dragonhaven is set in a world just like ours, except that in addition to all the regular animals there are also dragons. These dragons grow 50+ feet long, breathe fire, and are extinct in the wild so this story takes place on a 5-million-acre reserve, Smokehill. Rarely seen by humans, dragons aren't without controversy: they do breathe fire, after all, even if they've never harmed a human. But the danger's there, so while it is illegal to hunt them, it's also illegal to save a dragon's life.
This is where Jake comes in. Hiking alone he comes across a dying dragon that had just given birth, fatally wounded by a poacher she killed in return, and all but one of her dragonlets were dead. Jake, the narrator, rescues the live one and then must find a way to raise it in secret. This is made all the harder by the attention that is now showered upon Smokehill because of the death of the poacher.
One of the most interesting things about the books is, of course, the dragons. They're huge, they fly, they breathe fire, they're not lizards, and they raise their young in pouches, like marsupials. Being so human-shy, the narrator admits--and reminds us--that humans don't know a lot about them, so over the course of the book we're learning just as much as he is.
One of the best things about this story is that it doesn't just end when you'd think it would end, when the danger's gone or when the dragon grows up. At the point I was expecting an ending, there was still a good fifth or sixth of the book left, plenty of time to fill us in about their future, more details about dragons, and the life of the characters. It was very good, although you're still left wanting more.
Now, the big problem with the book is that you want more. Robin McKinley likes to dangle bits of information in front of you and then wait chapters and chapters to give an answer, if she gives one at all. We never find out exactly what some of the other animals mentioned at--sure, we know that Yukon Wolves are nasty killers, but what exactly are they? Or Caspian walruses? Griffins are mentioned in passing, but we never find out how these other mythological creatures exist or survive. Sure, they're not important to the story, but it's aggravating to read about things that are never explained.
The other thing that makes Dragonhaven hard to read is the writing style itself. It is just so wordy. It's pretty much impossible to just skim over parts when you're bored--and believe me, some parts are just boring--and start reading in-depth again when the story gets back on track or picks up. No. If you try to skim, you'll feel like you've lost your place and fallen out of the story. It requires you to pay attention to what you're reading, it's not something you can pick up for light reading.
Overall, it's definitely a good book, but unless you're used to McKinley's style, try a library first. Her flavor of writing may not be for everyone.