"Please declare aloud: I hereby undertake to tread the world, to garden the wild, and to saddle the seas, as did my brother Brendan. I will not turn away from shades in fear, nor avert my eyes from light. I shall do as my Keeper requires, and keep no secret from a Sage. May the stars guide me, and my strength preserve me. And I will not smoke in the library." - Oath of the Order of Brendan, translation approved, 1946.
Cyrus Lawrence Smith, a nearly too tall boy of almost thirteen, is absolutely, positively convinced that his life cannot get any worse. Two years ago - well, two years ago Cy's life was perfect. The Smith family - Cyrus, his sister Antigone, his older brother Daniel, and his wonderful, vibrant parents - all lived quite happily on the coast in northern California. That was before everything went horribly, tragically wrong. Cyrus's father died - drowned at sea - and his mother fell into a coma from which she may never awaken. Dan, who used to be laid-back and happily-go-lucky, has had to take on all of the stress and worry of keeping their dwindling family afloat and together. The house in California is long gone, sold to help pay the bills. For the past two years, the three remaining Smiths have lived in the decrepit Archer, a once grand example of the roadside motel slouching by the highway on the outskirts of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
So yeah, Cyrus's life has been pretty tough lately, but it was never out and out bizarre before the last 48 hours. It all started when Billy `Bones' Skelton, a walking definition of `crazy old man' as far as Cyrus can tell, called the Archer and demanded a specific room for the night. Any type of paying guest is strange enough, but no one has ever wanted to stay in one particular room. That phone call set off a chain of events that has seen Cyrus nearly electrocuted, the Archer burned down and Dan kidnapped by the insanely evil henchman of a malevolent criminal who sometimes calls himself Dr. Phoenix and sometimes, Mr. Ashes. Now Cyrus and Antigone have pledged themselves to the Order of Brendan, an obscure and ancient society of explorers who keep the world's secrets and beat back evil wherever they find it. The O of B is the Smiths' only hope of rescuing their brother, but it's obvious that not every member is ready to welcome Cyrus and Antigone into their ranks. They'll have to work very hard just to avoid being tossed out on their ears while they determine just what, exactly, is going on.
It's not easy to find an original work of fantasy that successfully combines the world we know with the world of myth and legend. Mr. Wilson has done that with The Dragon's Tooth and he's done so in a particularly vivid and inventive way. The Ashtown Estate of the Order of Brendan is as much a character in this novel as any of the people Cyrus and Antigone meet and Mr. Wilson gives this institution a personality that is both grand and forbidding. The myth-building is perfectly executed here. The reader learns things about the O of B along with Cyrus and Antigone and, also along with them, finds confusion turning to wonder and fear morphing into a determination to set things right.
All of the characters are multi-faceted and interesting but it is Cyrus Smith, along with his sister, that makes The Dragon's Tooth work on every level. He ties the fantastical to the real and gives the reader a stake in the outcome of Dan's kidnapping. The story is full of action and conflict, heroes, villains and those that are a little bit of both, and it is up to Cyrus and Antigone to figure out who will help them and who is working to see them fail. The Dragon's Tooth is the first book in the new Ashtown Burials series but, unlike so many other series starters, it is also a fully realized, richly entertaining novel on its own. Fantasy fans are sure to love it and those who haven't liked the genre before may find themselves pulled into Cyrus's story.
As a final note, I ought to add that the Advanced Readers' Copy I had said this book was designated for readers 8-12. I'm sure there are 8-year-olds out there who can handle the danger and violence of the story, but parents should be aware that The Dragon's Tooth may be a bit intense for younger readers.