After making several references to this review during and around the author's recent blog tour, I finally republish it here. I only have one additional note: on February 6, Kaza emailed me to say she had finished Book Three: Erec Rex: The Search for Truth. She sounded pretty excited about it. I'm thrilled just looking forward to reading it.
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye
by Kaza Kingsley
Recommended Age: 12+
This is Book One of a new series, featuring a boy with dark, unruly hair, something unusual about his eyes that will prove very significant, and a non-traditional family in which he must sleep in a closet. One day he finds out that he really belongs to a magical world, from which he was taken for mysterious reasons when he was only a child, and once he returns he must step carefully so as not to draw the notice of a baddie who wants him dead.
All right, have I made this book sound enough like Harry Potter to get your attention? It took a bit of cleverness to do that. I hope you appreciate it.
Actually, Erec Rex isn't much like Harry Potter after all - unless you describe him exactly as I just did. Until age 12, he has grown up in a loving home, raised by a woman named June O'Hara, who has a weakness for unwanted children. The reason he sleeps in the laundry closet (not the cupboard under the stairs) is that the family has moved around a lot, and has gotten poorer and poorer, so the only New York apartment they can afford is much too small for a single woman and six children. And some of them are "special needs" children, including a boy who rarely speaks and a girl who walks on crutches.
Erec himself isn't all there. He has a glass eye (green, with a catlike slit pupil), and from time to time he is overcome by an urge to do something whether or not he knows why it must be done. No matter how hard he fights, he always gives in at the end... and a good thing, too, because so far his "cloudy thoughts," as he calls them, have enabled him to prevent bad things from happening. He only worries that this weird, stomach-upsetting form of ESP may someday force him to do bad things.
Scarcely have we been introduced to Erec's interesting family when he is swept off on his first adventure. A "cloudy thought" tells Erec that his mother has been captured, and it leads him to a hot dog stand near Grand Central Station. Together with a runaway newsgirl, Erec plunges into a world he never knew existed, a world full of magic, governed by two kings and a queen who are ready to retire after centuries on the throne. While he tries to find out what happened to June, Erec decides he might as well join the children competing in a series of magical games, in which the winners will be the next kings and queens. At first, he figures this will at least give him a base from which to work; but as he finds himself among the winners in game after game, Erec seems increasingly likely to win. And that in spite of the suspicions of one of the judges, the malice of a fellow competitor named Balor Stain, hints of betrayal and corruption in the royal court of Alypium, and a series of dangerous traps someone has been laying for the winners of each contest.
Erec gains interesting friends, including a dog that turns into a ravening beast at the full moon; he obtains some magical aids, such as the "seeing eyeglasses" and a pair of sneakers truly worthy of the name; he concocts some fabulous plans and experiences some truly exciting and dangerous adventures, including an encounter with a soul-devouring demon reminiscent of Harry Potter's dementors - only cleverer. Like Harry, he encounters a magical sport, a dark lord trying to take over the world, the prejudice of magical people (Keepers) against non-magic folk (Losers), and a contest rigged to take the life of its winner. Unlike Harry, he manages all this in Book One, and by the end it looks as if things will be quite different in Book Two: Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness.