Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Dragon's Tooth

"North of Mexico, south of Canada, and not too far west of the freshwater sea called Lake Michigan, in a place where cows polka-dot hills and men are serious about cheese, there is a lady on a pole."
N.D. Wilson is the King of First Sentences as far as I'm concerned. He has yet to write one that hasn't made me smile. He is also one of my favorite authors and his books are auto buys. Always. The Dragon's Tooth was one of my most anticipated reads of 2011 and it did not disappoint. 

Summary (From Author's Website): 
For two years, Cyrus and Antigone Smith have run an 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 millenia.

The Dragon's Tooth pretty much has a little bit of everything. If you enjoy action there are plenty of car chases, bullets flying, and things exploding. If you enjoy mythology there is some of that. (And not the overdone Greek, Roman or Egyptian variety either. Wilson brought in the Ancient Mesopotamian mythology for this one.) If you like supernatural there is a "burial ground" trapping immortal bad guys. If you like boarding school stories you will find the protagonists receiving the most interesting of educations in the compound they are now residents of. (Not a magical education as is so common in fantasy novels, but a "how to become an Indiana Jones type explorer for a secret society" education.) If you like psychological thrillers the book offers up one of the creepiest mind controlling villains to show up in quite some time. (If I were writing about my Most Disturbing Characters now, Dr. Phoenix would be on the list for sure.) If you are a fan of mystery there is also plenty of that. The only thing missing is romance, but there are going to be four more books after this, so there is still time for that too. There are also literary nods to both Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Treasure Island. And a ferocious giant immortal turtle answering to the name of Leon. (No joke.)

Is there a lot going on in this book? Yes. And not all of it comes across flawlessly, but it is pretty close. This is one of those stories where the adults monumentally screw up and the kids get to be the ones to brilliantly save the day. Kids eat those stories up, and I appreciate them still too. The world building here is intricate and not completely understood by the end of the story. That is okay though because Cyrus and Antigone are learning as they go and the reader is sharing the experience. The Order of Brendan in which Cyrus and Antigone find themselves is thousands of years old. It can't be fully explained in one book. What is made known in this book is fascinating and definitely whets the appetite for more.

I very much enjoyed the characters of Cyrus and Antigone. They have experienced a lot of tragedy and it has affected them greatly. They show real emotion and you can really sympathize with them. They are flawed too and not at all the tragic hero types. I really enjoyed how much of each of them was revealed in their interactions with each other. Like in this scene:
"I really don't want to sleep in here, and I feel like I'm going to cry."
"Well, don't," said Cyrus. "Think of me. How much worse would it be for me if you were crying?"
"It's not like I'm planning on crying. It's just that, well, here we are. And Mrs. Eldridge is the only person we know, and it's not like she's excited to help us. Dan's gone and we don't know if anyone is doing anything about it. Mom's back at the hospital-when will we get another Mom day? Are we even allowed to leave? And we're sleeping in a room with a boy we just met who looks like he's dying, and there are Whip Spiders, and the motel is burned, and who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? This place was supposed to help us." She scrunched her face.
"I think you are planning on crying," said Cyrus. "It's like you're trying to talk yourself into it."
"Dork."
"Girl."
"Oh, shut up." Antigone raised her head. "If you think making me mad is going to keep me from crying, you're dumber than I thought, and you haven't been paying any attention to girls for pretty much your entire life."
Genuine sibling banter and it tells a lot about they feel about each other. And the boy Antigone mentions who looks like he is dying? Nolan. He is one of the most intriguing secondary characters and probably my favorite outside the main two. Of course, he is an honorable tragic thief ,so no surprise there. He is part of a little posse of supporters that build up around Cyrus and Antigone by the end of the book that I have a feeling we will be hearing more from in later volumes.

Wilson is exploring a plethora of interesting themes with the story as well. I very much like how he portrays immortality as something pitiful rather than desirable. There is also the whole mind set of Dr. Phoenix, his experiments, and what he is doing with genetic and psychological mutation. Racism and cultural elitism. are also explored. Despite the depiction of Cyrus on the cover (Really Random House, why is it so hard to do this right?) Cyrus and Antigone are described several times as having dark skin that they inherited from their mother, who has a very interesting background. It is her background the Order takes exception to and the kids are often referred to by others as mutts and mongrels. There is definitely a lot of food for thought to chew on in the book.

I will warn you the end is going to make you want the next volume of the series (which I've heard tell will number 5) immediately. This is unfortunate as it doesn't even have a release day yet.

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