Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12-15
Recommended for: ages 10 and up
Bottom Line: N. D. Wilson dives into antiquity to serve up this rich fantasy about a pair of “ordinary” siblings and an ancient fellowship that resembles the church.
To a traveler’s eyes, the motel is dead and useless, a roadside tragedy, like the remains of some unfortunate animal in a ditch—glimpsed, mourned, and forgotten before the next bend in the road. But to the lean boy with the dark skin and the black hair struggling in the thick brush behind the pool, the motel is alive . . .
Cyrus Smith is feeling rather insignificant when we see him first: a 12-year-old kid skipping the last day of school, scrounging a couple of tires from the woods to throw in the dry swimming pool. The motel is home for the last two years, ever since his father was killed in a boating accident and his mother has suffered a severe mental and physical breakdown that puts her in residential care. His 20-year-old brother Daniel runs the business, such as it is, and his 13-year-old sister Antigone tries to establish order and purpose in their lives. Cyrus is on hold, unwilling to commit himself to a plan or goal–until a sinister old codger named William Skelton shows up and demands to be checked into his room. Signs and wonders accompany Skelton, none of them welcome, culminating in a firefight that will split up the family, introduce a horrendous villain, and set Cyrus and Antigone running for their lives. Also running toward their destiny, for Skelton has named them his heirs and entrusted Cyrus with his most precious possession, which evil men will stop at nothing to obtain: the dragon’s tooth.
Ashtown (of the series title) is the American enclave for the Order of Brendan, a centuries-old brotherhood dedicated to fighting evil—sometimes from within its own ranks. Skelton was a member, though not in good standing, and as his heirs the Smith kids have an opportunity to join. Their association with the Order actually goes much deeper, as they will soon discover. Not all members are friends, and not all non-members are enemies, but it will take a while to sort out whom to trust before the final showdown.
Wilson is a bold and adventurous writer. First of all, in content; few children’s authors take the time with description that he does, or lavish their prose to on detail and texture. Boys (excuse the stereotype) will love his mechanical creations, like the spring-loaded cable baskets that slingshot his protagonists to Ashtown and the pulley system that hauls them into its reception hall. The Polygon, with its plank walks and whip spiders, is delightfully creepy. The plot is almost an embarrassment of riches; I needed a pencil to keep track of all the developments, and not all of them were followed up. In language, too, he’s not afraid to experiment: he verbs nouns and nouns verbs (as in to “souvenir his ear” or “popcorn” across a tumble of bodies). He reaches for unexpected metaphors that often work (though sometimes not). Above all, he doesn’t talk down to his readers: though pitched to middle grade, many older teenagers will find The Dragon’s Tooth challenging, both in language and in idea. But they’ll like the pacing (which is almost too breakneck for me, but I’m older. And a girl.)
“I don’t write fantasy,” the author says on his publisher’s page. In a way that’s true: he writes reality at its most real, that is, at the level where creation is charged with significance. Everything meets its divine appointment, whether we know it or not, human beings most of all. Ashtown reminds me most of all of the church, an ancient brotherhood salvaged from the world and set apart to prevail against the gates of hell. She’s maimed and dusty, and some of her most virulent enemies began as traitors, and her battle is never won here on earth. But if her enemies rise from the ashes, so does she: there’s always a remnant. Speaking of Ashtown, that’s a good thing. It means Part Two.
Cautions: Violence (intense but not graphic)
Overall rating: 5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Artistic value: 5
Categories: Young Adult, Middle Grades, Fantasy, Christian, Character Values
boys, young adult (YA), middle grades, fantasy, mythology, Christian, courage, Christian faith, N. D. Wilson, Ashtown Burials, The Dragon’s Tooth, reformatted, reading level: young adult ages 12-15, recommended for: ages 12 and up