Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon
by James Riley
Recommended Ages: 12+

Forsythe Fitzgerald, Fort to his friends, is a little nervous about starting over at the Oppenheimer School. To start, it's a whole new school, since the one he started at only a few weeks ago was destroyed in an attack by the Old Ones which he helped to thwart. But now he has to juggle strict orders to make friends with his new roommate, trying to steal two books of magic and lying to his three best friends about his motives, all while under constant guard by Colonel Charles' soldiers. Plus, he's staying in psychic contact with a couple of former Oppenheimer students who are on the run, being hunted by government agents who suspect that Fort knows more than he's letting on. Topping it all, he's secretly planning to open a portal into a dimension crammed with terrifying monsters and saving his father, who has been missing for eight months, though he risks unleashing quite literal hell on earth. His clairvoyant friend Cyrus tells him there are several ways this can play out: Either he lets his friends come along on the rescue mission, in which case he'll lose one of them forever; or he goes on his own, and most likely doesn't come back. But he's all right with that, as long as he rescues his father. Except for the nightmares. Whoa, those nightmares!

A recurring theme in those nightmares is a flat order from one of the Old Ones to bring them the last dragon. He has no idea what they're talking about. The only dragons Fort knows about are skeletons, recovered along with the bones of ancient wizards and the books of magic that were all discovered on the same day, May 9, 13 years ago, at locations all around the world. But the nightmares are insistent. Well, to cut this synopsis short, Fort does manage to steal the book of Summoning magic that will enable him to open a portal to the monsters' dimension, though he loses most of his friends in the process. (Don't worry, they're all right. Just really mad at him.) And he does eventually master a spell from that book, which unlocks the level where he can do the dimensional portal thing. But pretty much everything after that happens despite all his plans. His friends come back and insist on helping him, despite the danger. And thanks to them, everything in existence is threatened once again.

In another adventure that strains the limits of middle school-friendly fiction, Fort and friends meet gigantic, savage creatures, and millions of brainwashed dwarves, and Lovecraftian elder gods with all the eldritch horror that surrounds them. They experience a threat to all humanity, mind-destroying psychic forces, life-size pinball games with teleportation portals instead of bumpers and themselves as the ball, and chit-chats with beings capable of squashing them like bugs – not to mention a cruel betrayal, a heartbreaking decision and (in Fort's case) what another character acerbically describes as a round-the-world joyride on a dragon, in front of every news camera in the developed world. And even if (spoiler warning) the world doesn't end in this book, Fort's group won't have long to bask in their success before another weird, magical threat arises.

Even though Fort only really masters one spell in this book – bringing his total, after the events of the previous installment, to one – he quickly develops into a power user of what seems likely to be his (almost) unique ability going into the future. It serves him well in an adventure that seems to race forward with a relentless pace of action, danger, colossal magic and teen (or pre-teen) attitude. It's loaded with emotional issues kids will understand, dry humor, picture-postcard scenery and, at the center, a passionately driven, rule-breaking brat with a heart of gold. You might want to grab Fort and shake some sense into him, but only because you care.

This is the second of five "Revenge of Magic" books, whose titles also include The Revenge of Magic, The Future King, 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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