This imaginative middle grade adventure by writer and game designer Matthews (Dragon Run) blends coming-of-age soul-searching with high-stakes fantasy action. At age nine, Bradley had a run-in with a would-be kidnapper, an incident that left him with debilitating anxiety. When he turns 12, his parents explain that he’s about to undergo a magical transformation into a dragon. Bradley’s parents, also dragons, have been waiting for centuries for a child who displays the gallu draig, the power to transform or “hatch” into a dragon. Before he can begin to discover the central purpose that will shape his unique draconian form and powers, Bradley is once again targeted by the kidnappers, evil fae who drain the gallu draig from unhatched dragons. They threaten to wipe out Bradley’s entire dragon clan. Bradley’s parents and aunt try to protect him, and his fear paralyzes him, but in the end it still falls to him to save the day.
The premise of a preteen protagonist being thrust into a magical world will be familiar to seasoned fantasy readers, but Matthews puts his own stamp on it, focusing on the inner conflict of Bradley’s yearning to be respected and take action even as he feels terrified and weak. Unfortunately, the confusing power abilities and restrictions of different dragons and fae complicate an otherwise intriguing premise, and the dynamics of various alliances are briefly sketched or left for readers to puzzle over.
Teen readers will connect easily with Bradley’s quests to graduate from his safe but stifling childhood into a brave and active adulthood, master his panic attacks, and discover his passion. Those readers’ parents will appreciate the minimal violence, few and bloodless deaths (defeated fae vanish in a pop of light), and warmly present family. Bradley’s watchful mother, gruff father, clever aunt, and adorable younger sister are a pleasure to spend time with. A compelling cast of characters with rich backstories round out this fantastical story of a scared kid learning to stand up to bullies and be true to himself.
Takeaway: This good-hearted transformation fantasy about finding the strength to overcome fear will appeal to readers on the cusp of adolescence.
Great for fans of Sarah Nicolas's Dragons Are People, Too, Marc Secchia.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: - Editing: B+ Marketing copy: A
“Dragon Run is a fresh, inventive, action-packed adventure with a good message”
- Provo Library Children’s Book Review
“Stories that shed light; colorful characters who help the young protagonists along; and a plot that keeps getting bigger and bigger propel this sleeper tale to a whiz-bang conclusion.”
- The Horn Book
“Sword fights, a mysterious society and an impossible quest keep this inventive fantasy moving at a fast clip.”
- Kirkus Reviews
“Fantasy fans will find much to enjoy in this action-filled adventure.”
- School Library Journal
In this YA fantasy sequel, a boy who defeated dragons must confront a powerful magic wielder.
In Book 1 of this series, 12-year-old Alluencien "Al" Pilgrommor earned a zero rank on Testing Day, putting himself and his family in danger. He was sent away, but being zero also allowed Al to survive being bombarded with Potentia, "the source of all magic," giving him special powers—some remaining untapped. In a great battle, Al poisoned and overthrew the dragons ruling his society, which freed the five races. Now, the grounds outside Castle Surflienne are littered with dragon corpses, and the imperious Magister Trejir arrives, appointing himself ruler. Feeling devastated by his father's continued rejection and sensing danger from Trejir, Al goes to Dockside, where he learns two disturbing facts: the Feathers—a secret organization that helped Al kill the dragons—are being hunted, and Trejir has taken the boy's mother hostage. Not only that, Trejir has gotten hold of a dragon egg and means to reestablish tyranny. As Al works to defeat Trejir, he gathers allies and becomes known as the boy with the sword, which is conspicuously a little too big for him. If Al can learn more about his abilities and how to use them in time, his coalition might have a chance. Matthews (Dragon Run, 2013) takes his exciting sword-and-sorcery tale to some unexpected places here, with well-drawn vignettes of Dockside society and a compelling backstory. For example, because the dragons rewrote history and claimed to have created humans, Al is a monster, not a hero, to many—including his own mother. Al's enjoyably ragtag associates include the spirits of Castle Surflienne's last human rulers, which inhabit the very stones. Al's considerable powers are balanced by his feelings of rejection, and he grows through his experiences, learning to plan and think ahead. But diction is sometimes too modern; words like "mom," "dad," "guy," "okay," and the intensifier "super" take readers out of this medieval-ish world.
Effective worldbuilding, strong character development, and fast-paced action make for an entertaining adventure.