Wilson (the 100 Cupboards books) launches the Ashtown Burials series with this wildly imaginative and action-packed thrill ride. Their father dead and their mother in a coma, Cyrus and Antigone Smith are being raised by their older brother, Dan, while running (and living in) a dilapidated motel. Then the enigmatic Billy Skelton shows up: the elderly man barely has time to induct Cyrus and Antigone into the mysterious Order of Brendan and designate them as his heirs before he's killed. After Dan is kidnapped and the motel is destroyed, the siblings have nowhere to go but Ashtown, the clandestine home of the ancient order. There, they learn about their family's shadowy history and must prove their worth to the society of adventurers and explorers whose past members have included the likes of Amelia Earhart. Additionally, Cyrus and Antigone battle traitors and subterranean creatures while struggling to keep an ancient artifact away from an immortal madman. Wilson balances these hyperbolic plot elements with measured prose and smart dialogue, while combining pulp sensibilities, cinematic pacing, and fully developed characters readers will gladly follow down the rabbit hole. Ages 8-12.
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Children's Literature - Paula Rohrlick
Ever since their father died and their mother fell into a coma, Cyrus, age twelve, Antigone, age thirteen, and Dan, age twenty, have run a moldy old motel in Michigan, struggling to make ends meet. Then an old man covered with bone tattoos arrives at the motel, revealing some strange secrets and bringing serious trouble in his wake. Within twenty-four hours, the motel lies in ruins, Dan has gone missing, and Cyrus and Antigone are swearing allegiance to an ancient, secret order of explorers and historians who work to protect the world from dastardly criminals and to guard its treasures. These treasures include a dragon's tooth with the power to raise and rule the dead, which is now in Cyrus's hands, and it makes him a target for a very dangerous enemy. Cyrus and Antigone make some friends in the order's compound, including a jolly, legless cook, a young-seeming man who is actually thousands of years old, and a dashing aviatrixbut can they be trusted? This first book in the "Ashtown Burials" series is a wonderful, swashbuckling adventure with delightfully creepy supernatural touches, such as a zoo of deadly creatures: it reads like a lively cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Harry Potter series. There is no lack of inventive and bizarre characters, including mortals, immortals, and mutated transmortals, too, some harking to ancient myths. Action and fight scenes abound, and the female characters more than hold their own. Wilson, who also wrote the "100 Cupboards" series, is sure to win many new fans with this suspenseful and frequently funny adventure tale, full of daring deeds and unexpected twists. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
A wild fantasy romp through a creatively imagined alternative world takes a classic quest format.
Cyrus and Antigone, siblings ages 12 and 13 1/2, respectively, are thrown into adventure when they must leavethe ancient motel in Wisconsin that has been their home in ashes and are driven by a lawyer with very strange speech patterns in a limo to Ashtown, where an alternate world awaits.Might their parents, thought dead, actually be alive? By the use of the third person, the author keeps events rolling and the pace swift, with barely a moment to breathe for the characters. While certain of their foes are immortal, others are just plain old incredible creatures, such as whip spiders and feathered vipers,but all require the courage of the trusty duo, who manages to befriend the right sorts just in time to be saved.Naturally, world dominion is at stake, and the evil Dr. Phoenix at the heart of the plot. The somewhat bombastic prose matches the derring-do required of the heroes, who have a certain winsome charm, and the nonstop action doesn't allow for any reflection on the absurdity of the premise.For readers who've reread all of Harry Potter multiple times, this will be just what the doctor ordered.
Blissfully free of any deeper message, the adventures will continue in future volumes.(Fantasy. 10-15)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, August 8, 2011:
"Wilson (the 100 Cupboards books) launches the Ashtown Burials series with this wildly imaginative and action-packed thrill ride. Cyrus and Antigone Smith . . . must prove their worth to [a] society of adventurers and explorers whose past members have included the likes of Amelia Earhart. Additionally, Cyrus and Antigone battle traitors and subterranean creatures while struggling to keep an ancient artifact away from an immortal madman. Wilson balances these hyperbolic plot elements with measured prose and smart dialogue, while combining pulp sensibilities, cinematic pacing, and fully developed characters readers will gladly follow down the rabbit hole."
Starred Review, Booklist, October 15, 2011:
"Cyrus and Antigone Smith have been living with their brother, Dan, since the mysterious circumstances that caused their father’s death and their mother’s coma. Then Billy Bones appears out of nowhere with a ring of keys and a dragon’s tooth. Within moments of passing them to Cyrus, Billy is killed and Dan is kidnapped by the elusive Dr. Phoenix. The only possibility of rescuing their brother seems to reside in Ashtown with the Order of Brendan. This fast-paced fantasy quickly draws readers in to its alternate reality, where transmortal creatures cannot be defeated with ordinary weapons, and Dr. Phoenix’s experiments on Dan and others are reminiscent of history’s worst realities. Yet, on the positive side, there is the love the Smith family holds for one another, love that requires trust and self-sacrifice. Allusions to mythology and complex character development—not only of several young protagonists but also of Phoenix and the shifty cook, Sterling—make Wilson’s first in a proposed series a gem. In an embattled world, where evil seems insurmountable, a glimmer of hope arises from a tooth."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 1, 2011:
"The Order of Brendan is an underground collective of sages, historians, and explorers who've been guarding the world's secrets for millennia. Cyrus and Antigone are plunged headlong into an exciting and dangerous world and pursued by a deadly advisory who will do anything to possess their strange inheritance.This volume marks the birth of an extraordinary new series. Populated with well-crafted characters, peppered with mythological references, and brought to vivid life through Wilson's masterful storytelling, this book is sure to appeal to the adventurous spirit in all who delve into its pages."
The Bulleting of the Center for Children's Books, December 2011:
"A wild adventure that features swarms of deadly, carnivorous spiders, one gigantic snapping turtle, animal/human hybrids, and a double-timing cook—not to mention the occasional cameos by Amelia Earhart and Rasputin. The mythology behind the Order is neatly woven into the action-packed plot, offering a brief reprieve from chases and hunts without slowing the pace. Even at a hefty 400-plus pages, this exhilarating story reads like a breeze, and fans of adventure will have a hard time putting it down."
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2011:
"A wild fantasy romp through a creatively imagined alternative world. For readers who've reread all of Harry Potter multiple times, this will be just what the doctor ordered."