Brampton kicks off his debut fantasy series with a 15-year-old boy following a series of riddles, courtesy of his grandfather, leading him to an otherworldly medallion.
Joseph Van Pearce’s dreams lately have been curiously vivid, one featuring the unknown land Ettonina at war, with clashing swords and dragons. The boy’s reputation for falling asleep during class at school, however, may be as much due to his troubled home life. His mother’s a neglectful alcoholic, unable to recover from the loss of her firefighter husband, killed in a blaze. Things take a turn for Joseph when he discovers a photograph of his dad and archaeologist grandfather, Cyril, who’s now dead, with a riddle attached. It’s from Cyril to his grandson, referencing a mysterious key and sending Joseph to Talgar, the village where Grandmother Mary still resides. At Mary’s house is Cyril’s somewhat cryptic letter telling Joseph that, to save his family from “an evil creature,” he must retrieve the hidden Dragon’s Head Medallion. Another riddle ultimately sets him on a path to Erin Scott, whose pub-owning parents help Joseph after he’s caught in a snowstorm. The 17-year-old girl offers assistance of her own; she and Joseph search for the medallion for his family’s well-being and maybe to explain Cyril’s death (Mary’s certain someone murdered him). Plus there’s the sinister creature to watch out for, possibly related to the red-eyed crows relentlessly trailing Joseph. The novel is unequivocally the start of an epic story; readers get a mere taste of the opening battle with mythical beasts—Joseph’s ominous dream. The remainder of the tale is contemporary but boasts Cyril’s clever riddles (one must be translated first) and a persistent menace. The crows, too, are a precursor to something bigger, more terrifying, and best left unspoiled. Constant bickering between Erin and Joseph adds humor and hints of romance, but it’s more fun when Joseph’s alone. A highlight, for example, is Joseph taking his dad’s car to head to Talgar; he can’t drive and accordingly learns along the way. Brampton leaves behind perhaps a few too many questions, like the teacher who seemingly and inexplicably attacks a student, but answers surely lie in subsequent books.
A worthwhile adventure just beginning, with potential for further mystery and suspense.