It is with just such excitement and a tinge of nervousness that I approached The Dragon’s Tooth N.D. Wilson’s first book in a new series called Ashtown Burials. The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy, so I dived in and read it in a couple of days. The excitement stayed and the nervousness went away. It was a fast paced, imaginative and action packed adventure.
Here is the publisher’s introduction:
For two years, Cyrus and Antigone Smith have run a sagging roadside motel with their older brother, Daniel. Nothing ever seems to happen. Then a strange old man with bone tattoos arrives, demanding a specific room.
Less than 24 hours later, the old man is dead. The motel has burned, and Daniel is missing. And Cyrus and Antigone are kneeling in a crowded hall, swearing an oath to an order of explorers who have long served as caretakers of the world’s secrets, keepers of powerful relics from lost civilizations, and jailers to unkillable criminals who have terrorized the world for millennia.
Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series started slowly and involved world building and a more literary style – at least in my opinion. The pace felt slower and the descriptions and detail more complex and layered. Dragon’s Tooth, in contrast, starts off with a bang – shotgun blasts bring the first chapter to a close – and the break neck pace basically continues for the rest of the book.
That is not to say there isn’t complexity and vivid descriptions, but Wilson fills in a complex fantasy backstory as the plot rockets forward rather than setting the scene and then launching the adventure. As the action happens readers begin to get a glimpse into what has brought Cyrus and Antigone to this point and how their family history has led them to this seemingly impossible scenario. Chapters give you a chance to catch your breath but you want to immediately plunge back in and find out what will happen next. Of course, you race to the end only to be faced with the unanswered questions and the inevitable wait for the next book in the series.
As usual with fantasy adventures, there is a certain suspension of disbelief required. And this is not a systematic interlocking magical system or world where all the pieces fit together and the challenge is simply understanding the logic behind it all. Rather this is a case of ancient mysteries and secrets breaking into the everyday lives There are differing versions of events and crisscrossing loyalties. The history is murky and contentious. It is a mix of mythology and conspiracy theory. Supernatural, or extra-natural, elements are added in as well.
The Smith siblings are dropped into this unknowing and unprepared. Everyone has strong opinions about them and their family even as they are just trying to get their head around what has happened; and how much of what they believed and thought was wrong. But the desperation of running for your life and having few, if any, options, pushes them forward. And of course the powerful gifts Cyrus received at the start of the adventure provide the necessary tools for their survival and the source of their danger.
As noted, this is really an action adventure. There is lots of action and the pace is fast and furious – speeding up the closer you get to the end. But Wilson does a great job filling in details even as he keeps up the pace and adds exciting new side adventures and characters (mythological and human). Characters are added and developed as the plot progresses and you begin to get a better understanding of the world Cyrus and Antigone have entered. As the adventure plays out you also get a better sense of the central characters personalities, background and style.
And of course, the adventure ultimately comes down to a battle between good and evil. The central characters must persevere and find a way to use the weapons they have to fight off what seem like impossible enemies. We find out more about the cause of all the death and destruction and his plans for conquest. At the start Cyrus and Antigone felt like they were alone in the world without hope but by the end they realize they have friends and allies; and, at least for now, they have brought their family back together. The ending, however, foreshadows more darkness and trial for the odd group of polygoners.
But that just means more action and adventure for readers. And so N.D. Wilson fans around the globe mutter to themselves “Hurry up and write!”