Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate is an interesting take on a sequel. One that I confess I can’t recall reading before. It isn’t until nearly half-way into the book that the central character from Alex and the Ironic Gentleman enters the story.
Instead the first half, as you might expect, focuses on the titular Timothy. From the publisher’s blurb:
Timothy Freshwater’s father can’t control him, his mother is always out of town, and now the boy too smart for his own good has been expelled from the last school in the city. After he meets Mr. Shen, a mysterious Chinese mailroom clerk at his father’s office, Timothy winds up in more trouble than he has ever gotten himself into.
It turns out the diminutive Mr. Shen is a dragon. Forced to take human shape for a thousand years, Mr. Shen cannot resume his true form until he scales an ancient Dragon’s Gate during a festival for the 125th year of the dragon. Now Timothy finds himself Mr. Shen’s latest keeper: stalked by a ninja, and chased by a menacing trio of black taxicabs.
And therin lies the rub, as they say (do they really say that?). Allow me to cowardly pass of my own critism on to someone else by quoting Kirkus:
Sporting a chip on his shoulder the size of a sequoia while being prone to both snotty behavior and fits of rage, Timothy makes an annoying protagonist.
Yes, I too found Timothy to be an annoying protagonist but Kirkus said it better in one sentence.
The truth is I just liked Alex as a character better. I frequently find central characters of this age and disposition annoying. I get tired of the whining and the self-pity and constant attempt to appear both disinterested and cool at the same time. Kress does a good job of capturing the agonistas involved but I didn’t enjoy the ride as much.
But, the story is still clever and the humor is still there as Kirkus notes:
Though at least as wordy as its predecessor, the tale’s snarky dialogue, sudden twists, authorial asides and daffy characters will keep readers turning the pages.
Timothy’s attitude may have put me off a bit in the first half, but the action, and the introduction of Alex and the gang from book 1, pick up the page in the second half and lead to an exciting conclusion. Kress throws in a few plot twists in to keep the reader guessing as well. Not surprisingly a key plot point turns on a rather ironic development centered on Timothy’s mother.
Overall, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate turned out to be a well done follow up to the enjoyable Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. She gives Timothy enough space to become his own character before introducing Alex and the plot hook is different enough to avoid a mere copy cat style follow up. But when the characters do come together the interaction works and improves the story.
Kress is clearly an author to watch. She balances the action and the humor well; with just the right dose of snark and asides to go with the “straight” storytelling. I look forward to reading what character and adventure she has dreamed up next; and to see what role Alex and Timothy might play.