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Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragon's Tooth

Review

Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragon's Tooth

Twelve-year-old Cyrus Smith has been living in the Archer motel with his sister Antigone and older brother Daniel for the past two years. Their dad has been lost at sea after having undertaken a perilous journey. Their mother's frenzied and futile attempt to rescue him has left her in a coma. The Smith children have been uprooted from their home in California to a motel in a remote midwestern village. Nothing exciting ever happens at the dilapidated motel, until the day an old man covered in bone tattoos shows up demanding to stay in a certain room --- Cyrus's own room, as it happens.

The man in question, Billy "Bones" Skelton, claims to be the children's godfather, although he is a complete stranger to them. Skelton brings grave danger to the Smiths, as a menacing enemy follows him all the way to the motel. The resulting fight ends in mayhem:  Skelton is dead, the motel has been burned to the ground, and Daniel has gone missing. However, before Skelton loses his life, he passes along a great treasure --- and burden --- to Cyrus in the form of a dragon's tooth that can bring the dead back to life or end the life of someone who cannot otherwise be killed. Cyrus is also given a set of keys that can open any door, and a living snake known as a patrik that has the power of invisibility and can protect the one who wears her around his neck.

Horace, the children's new guardian, pledges Cyrus and Antigone into a secret society of explorers known as the Order of Brendan. The Order, which has existed since time immemorial, is sworn to guard the world's secret treasures and relics, and to hunt and capture the worst evildoers and lock them up forever. Horace tells the siblings that their brother has been kidnapped and that the Order represents the children's only hope of ever finding and rescuing Daniel. To obtain the society's help, Cyrus and Antigone must first claim their place as Skelton's heirs and become Acolytes in the society by swearing a solemn oath "to tread the world, to garden the wild, and to saddle the seas."

When the children finally reach Ashtown, the labyrinthine estate of the Order of Brendan, the new Acolytes learn to their disappointment that not everyone wants them there. It turns out that the Smith family has a long and checkered history with the society, and there are those who fear that the children spell trouble. Cyrus and Antigone ("Tigs") learn that they must prove themselves at adeptly handling guns, planes and boats, and meet several other stiff challenges, before they can expect any help from the society. The likable sibling duo must keep all their wits about them to learn who is friend and who is foe in this dark and dangerous place, while they face down their malevolent archenemy Dr. Phoenix, who is pursuing them to Ashtown itself in search of Cyrus's dragon's tooth.

This first book in a series of five gets Ashtown Burials off to a roaring start. It's inventive and original, niftily combining ancient legend with a rural American setting of run-down motels, truck-stop diners, and guns. And it's densely populated with intriguing characters. Cyrus and Antigone are plucky, energetic, more than equipped to deal with the many twists and turns that fate brings their way. Nolan, the boy who is fated to be immortal, is a mysterious and engaging character who emerges from the shadows to help the siblings. The Smiths' enemy, Dr. Phoenix, a white-lab-coat-wearing maniac bent on grotesque experimentation and world domination, is not a particularly original character, but I have hopes that he will become more interesting in future books.

A word of caution. Although I did not find the violence to be gratuitous or gory, some readers may be deterred by the fact that the characters in the story use modern, rather than magical, weapons. The pages are liberally peppered with gunfights, explosions and even a mass poisoning. There are some musings on death that may disturb younger children; for instance, one of the central characters longs for death.

Nevertheless, THE DRAGON'S TOOTH provides an entertaining and high-energy rollercoaster ride for anyone seeking a fast-paced adventure tale.

Reviewed by Usha Rao on August 23, 2011

Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragon's Tooth
by N. D. Wilson

  • Publication Date: August 23, 2011
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375864393
  • ISBN-13: 9780375864391