Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Future King

The Future King
by James Riley
Recommended Ages: 12+

Fort Fitzgerald isn't a government institution – ain't that for sure. In fact, he's been voted Most Likely to Be Expelled by the military coheadmaster of the Oppenheimer School, where kids are taught magic to defend the country against supernatural threats – like Old Ones from another dimension and whatnot. He drove the Old Ones away the last time they attacked and saved the world (although the school's former campus was a total loss). And in his first week on the new, even more bunkerlike campus, he faced the Old Ones in their own realm and came back to tell the tale – not that anyone wants to hear it. Even bigger deal: He brought back his father, who was taken in the monster attack that put the magic school on a national defense footing. Nevertheless, Col. Charles blames him for stirring up all kinds of trouble – and especially for the fate of his two sons, one of whom remained behind in the monster dimension (don't even ask) while the other betrayed the whole world. So, it's pretty much over for Fort – and let's face it, he's pretty good at blaming himself for everything bad that happens, as it is.

But before he goes home with his memory wiped, Fort is expected to help the Army deal with a new threat. A group of students at the U.K. school of magic has set up a magical dome over England and Wales, holding millions hostage until their demands are met. The kids across the pond specialize in Time Magic – tricks like freezing people in time, projecting their minds into the future and moving at super speed. But it turns out that what they want are the specialties of Fort and two of his friends. Rachel does Destruction Magic (Elemental Magic when it's at home), meaning she can fly on a column of air, dig shovel-free through yards of earth and chuck balls of fire. Jia, on loan from Hong Kong, does Healing or Body Magic – like putting people to sleep, causing or curing diseases, and so forth. Fort, who hasn't had much time to relearn the spells he lost in his first encounter with the Old Ones, only knows two spells: Heal Minor Wounds and Teleport. Oh, and he has one more instance of a dimensional portal spell to burn before it's gone forever. But that still makes him dead useful when it comes to getting the thing those British kids are after: the Forbidden Book of Spirit Magic, which has the power to enslave other people's wills.

Why do they want this awful thing? Supposedly (not hinting at anything, here) to stop a friend of a friend from hulking out and destroying London. Supposedly to avert a war that will destroy human civilization. And naturally, Fort picks up the idea that it's all his fault. If it hadn't been for his caper in Monster Country, the Old Ones wouldn't know that Damian is a dragon in the form of a boy, and so Damian wouldn't be racing against the other kids to find that book of Spirit Magic so he can challenge the elder gods, and so he wouldn't be destined (according to the Time Magic kids) to go on a rampage that leads to World War III. And if that's not Fort's fault, just wait. The coming world war, the Time kids tell us, is going to be fought by grown-up soldiers using magic, which represents a major step forward from the current situation where only kids 13 and younger can learn spells from the books of magic. And that, apparently, is all because Fort's dad, returned from Monster Land, shows signs of being able to do magic, which inspires one of Fort's teachers to figure out how any adult can learn magic, which leads to serious international tensions between countries that claim ownership of the ancient books of magic, and what that leads to is too horrible to let happen. So, either way you cut it (Fort thinks), it's all because of his dumb choices, and now it's his responsibility to stop this bad future from happening.

But of course, what really happens is that Fort, Jia, Rachel and friends inadvertently cause the future they're trying to stop. It always works out that way, doesn't it? Thanks to a doublecross by a supposed ally and the badly timed interference of Col. Charles and his troops, everything goes sideways. Despite a terrifying adventure in which the kids encounter Merlin, the Faerie Queen and the real King Arthur (all six of them, actually), and in which Fort again faces up to the worst things inside himself, they end up separated perhaps forever from one of Fort's best friends, forced to watch as the worst case scenario unfolds, and left with only one heartbreaking choice to avert a magical war.

While Fort is good at running himself down, he shows real character and true heroism in this outing. He recognizes an insidious temptation and turns away from it; he risks physical agony and serious injury to save the world when no one else can; and he swallows back angry remarks, knowing that they'll only cause more trouble. His persistent belief that it's all his fault, while it may have a certain truth in it, clashes with the fact any reader can see for themselves: Fort is growing as a person, and he has true hero potential. Don't let being judged unworthy by an enchanted sword keep you down, Fort! Keep growing and we'll soon see, I think, who turns out to be the "chosen one," prophesied to make peace between humanity and the ancient magic that has come back for revenge.

This is the third of five "Revenge of Magic" books, whose titles also include The Revenge of Magic, The Last Dragon, The Timeless One and The Chosen One. Riley is also the author of three "Half Upon a Time" and five "Story Thieves" books.

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