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The Dragon's Tooth (Ashtown Burials #1) Paperback – August 7, 2012
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Guest Reviewer: James Dashner on The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson
James Dashner is the New York Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner trilogy and The 13th Reality series.
The Dragon’s Tooth by N. D. Wilson isn’t a run-of-the-mill fantasy book for kids. Original, captivating, funny, and suspenseful, it’s a book that will appeal to all ages. And it’s certainly not run-of-the-mill.
The Smith children (Dan, Antigone, and Cyrus) run the Archer Motel, living on waffles and periodically visiting their comatose mother in the hospital. With their father dead, they are pretty much on their own. Things quickly get exciting when a strange man with bones tattooed all over his body comes to the motel demanding to stay in room 111. He shows twelve-year-old Cyrus a lightning bug encased in glass that has dangerous capabilities. After much mayhem the motel is destroyed in a fire, and Cyrus’s older brother, Dan, goes missing. Cyrus is given some very powerful keys and a shard of a tooth. Antigone and Cyrus travel to Ashtown, where they learn about the Order of Brendan, which has existed for fifteen centuries, and that they’re considered Acolytes, with some learning to do before they advance. As you can see, there’s a lot going on to keep you reading!
One of the elements I really enjoyed about the book is all the cool imagery that Wilson introduces. Quick Water is a substance that, when shared between two people, allows them to see where the other is. It ends up being helpful to Antigone as she searches for her brother. There’s a room with planks hanging from the ceiling to walk on so as to avoid the Whip Spiders. And there’s Patricia, a serpent that turns invisible when she swallows her tail. She helps Cyrus to conceal the special keys he’s been given.
To say this book is action-packed would be an understatement. It starts quickly and keeps a steady pace right to the climax and ending. The story is well-crafted, with vibrant characters and interesting places. I especially appreciated the way Wilson develops the siblings. The brother/ sister relationship is very authentic, and the dialogue believable. I’m really looking forward to the second installment!
A Letter from Author N. D. Wilson
I love books that give me a thirst to step outside and blink in the sun (or blink in the rain), books that make me put on my boots or my shoes or my sandals, that make me want to climb, to dive, to dig, to have staring contests with anthills, to hold crabs or touch sharks or search out even fatter books.
Escapism in fiction can be a beautiful thing. But that’s not the only thing I hope to create. If kids around the world pass through The Dragon’s Tooth and become friends with Cyrus and Antigone Smith and form clubs and sit in circles to role-play with dice and wish they had more interesting lives, then I will have failed. But if they dream of learning to sail, to swim, to fly, if they dream of running faster than they’ve ever run and studying Latin (or Greek or Persian or Creole), if they walk outside and realize that their world is more wonderful, more surprising, more dangerous, and more exciting than anything I could ever create, if they discover that they themselves could become more interesting than any character I could ever shape, then I will have succeeded.
In The Dragon’s Tooth, I season my story with a pirate cook and flight lessons and truly electric lightning bugs and an old motel beside a quiet road in Wisconsin. I add one or two of history’s rogues (and whip spiders and a bull shark named Lilly and a giant snapping turtle named Leon), and then I put it all on a sizzling end-of-summer barbecue and serve it with lemonade.
Taste. Eat. I hope you like. But if you don’t, step outside and look at the sky. Right now, you’re standing on a ball that is hurtling through space at Mach 86. And that ball of fire up there in the blue is slinging us around like we’re on a string. Birds really can fly. And sing. The ocean is real. The platypus is no myth. Caterpillars turn into soup (and yes, that soup turns into butterflies). This is our fantasy world, and it is the world into which I hope my readers escape.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, August 8, 2011:
"Wilson (the 100 Cupboards books) launches the Ashtown Burials series with this wildly imaginative and action-packed thrill ride. Cyrus and Antigone Smith . . . must prove their worth to [a] society of adventurers and explorers whose past members have included the likes of Amelia Earhart. Additionally, Cyrus and Antigone battle traitors and subterranean creatures while struggling to keep an ancient artifact away from an immortal madman. Wilson balances these hyperbolic plot elements with measured prose and smart dialogue, while combining pulp sensibilities, cinematic pacing, and fully developed characters readers will gladly follow down the rabbit hole."
Starred Review, Booklist, October 15, 2011:
"Cyrus and Antigone Smith have been living with their brother, Dan, since the mysterious circumstances that caused their father’s death and their mother’s coma. Then Billy Bones appears out of nowhere with a ring of keys and a dragon’s tooth. Within moments of passing them to Cyrus, Billy is killed and Dan is kidnapped by the elusive Dr. Phoenix. The only possibility of rescuing their brother seems to reside in Ashtown with the Order of Brendan. This fast-paced fantasy quickly draws readers in to its alternate reality, where transmortal creatures cannot be defeated with ordinary weapons, and Dr. Phoenix’s experiments on Dan and others are reminiscent of history’s worst realities. Yet, on the positive side, there is the love the Smith family holds for one another, love that requires trust and self-sacrifice. Allusions to mythology and complex character development—not only of several young protagonists but also of Phoenix and the shifty cook, Sterling—make Wilson’s first in a proposed series a gem. In an embattled world, where evil seems insurmountable, a glimmer of hope arises from a tooth."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 1, 2011:
"The Order of Brendan is an underground collective of sages, historians, and explorers who've been guarding the world's secrets for millennia. Cyrus and Antigone are plunged headlong into an exciting and dangerous world and pursued by a deadly advisory who will do anything to possess their strange inheritance.This volume marks the birth of an extraordinary new series. Populated with well-crafted characters, peppered with mythological references, and brought to vivid life through Wilson's masterful storytelling, this book is sure to appeal to the adventurous spirit in all who delve into its pages."
The Bulleting of the Center for Children's Books, December 2011:
"A wild adventure that features swarms of deadly, carnivorous spiders, one gigantic snapping turtle, animal/human hybrids, and a double-timing cook—not to mention the occasional cameos by Amelia Earhart and Rasputin. The mythology behind the Order is neatly woven into the action-packed plot, offering a brief reprieve from chases and hunts without slowing the pace. Even at a hefty 400-plus pages, this exhilarating story reads like a breeze, and fans of adventure will have a hard time putting it down."
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2011:
"A wild fantasy romp through a creatively imagined alternative world. For readers who've reread all of Harry Potter multiple times, this will be just what the doctor ordered."
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Many have complained, as this is a kid's book set in the real world, that there is too much violence for the intended audience, including the arming of 12-year-olds and such like. I would counter that Wilson has the wisdom to keep his violence from becoming gratuitous, but he also keeps the consequences real enough to discourage its use unless absolutely necessary. This book won't destroy psyches, it will build them up. That, and it's a rockin' good time.
I am glad to see that N.D. Wilson is starting to generate a nice following. He surprised and hooked me with Leepike Ridge. Then, he made Henry York (100 Cupboards) into one of my favorite characters of all time. That series is an outstanding "coming into your own" adventure.
In this series Wilson once again builds characters that the readers feel like they know. I especially like his ability to make even minor characters memorable. The one thing I have wished for is more focus on the female characters, and I was delighted to find that this series has a brother-sister team (brother is 12, sister 14). The girl gets as much attention as the boy.
Wilson really focuses on imagery in this book, which leads to some wordiness at times. Readers who really like to be able to visualize the world they are reading about will appreciate his efforts. Those who get caught up in the action and want to know what is going to happen will probably engage in some serious scanning. Personally, I had to make an effort to remain patient and force myself to see the world he creates.
The Eagles allusion? I don't like to give plot events away; suffice it to say that in the beginning of the novel the family (what is left of it, at least) owns a hotel. This surly looking dude checks in, and, in a way, he checks out. But, he can never leave.
I will definitely pick up the following books in this series, as the story following Cyrus and Antigone as they join the Order of Brendan (along with many famous figures from history) to fight against evil and Mr. Ashes/Dr. Phoenix. There are some great characters in this book- Cyrus, Antigone, Nolan, Rupert and even Eleanor... and then there is a whole host of almost great characters that I wanted to like, but just didn't feel like I got enough background on them to truly care about their relationships or keep them straight. Jax, Diana, Oliver, Dennis to name a few) I know it would be hard to strike the magical balance between just enough action meeting just enough interaction between the characters, especially when the book is already as long as it is.
Spoiler altert!: This book was close to the right mix, but I was super disappointed when, after massive amounts of action, the book fades to black and comes back in having skipped over all of the training Cyrus and Antigone go through. I want to feel like I am growing with them, and was bummed to have missed that chance to get to know their teachers and follow their training progress (especially since it is in fun things like sword-play, deep sea diving, aeronautics, etc.
Yes, I know this is a book meant for middle-readers with less of an attention span, and yes, I am 30 years old... but I felt similarly with Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" series. I loved the plot line in that story as well, but it was missing the relationships and descriptions needed to make it truly "stick" in my mind over other books and characters I have read. Don't misunderstand, N.D. Wilson is fantastic at writing about people and relationships (see his other books, especially Leepike Ridge) I am hoping that this is just the intro, and the upcoming books will develop the people/relationships further.