In this middle-grade fantasy, a brave teen makes a dangerous journey in order to aid his sick grandmother.
Tyler, who prefers the nickname “Ty,” has two best friends, Dylan and Xavier. They’re all playing cards in their treehouse in old man Grady’s backyard when Ty’s younger brother, Bob, pops in and exclaims that their dad has been injured. He’d been digging for blue fire rubies beneath Eagle Cliff when a cave collapsed. The rubies, in the hands of a skilled doctor like Ty’s mom, can be used to create effective healing potions. Ty’s ailing grandmother needs them, and with Eagle Cliff closed off, the next place to search for rubies is the Shadow Forest. Although it’s full of dangerous creatures, such as the horned rinog, Ty manages to sneak into it. He fashions several weapons, including a bow and arrows, and heads for Crystal Mountain. There, he meets a 50-foot-long “vipercon” serpent named Normack who initially wants to eat him for dinner. But when Ty stands up to the snake, he gains a friend. Later, the hero creates a black sword, crackling with power, from the skin of a giant “life leech.” Normack then says that Ty reminds him of the legendary warrior Cobasfang. For his debut, Walker delights in blurring the line between the familiar and the surreal. He doesn’t name Ty’s hometown, but it has some modern elements, such as a high school and a swimming pool; at the same time, it’s surrounded by protective razor bushes. Ty’s quest is playfully meandering, featuring swamps, caves, and the hidden kingdom of Zintar. Along the way, the boy battles a parade of odd creatures, including giant cave rats, the Norgon scavengers who ride them, and a rock monster named Grog. Walker’s principal lesson to young readers is that “knowing when to enter a dangerous area and when to avoid one is a sign of maturity.” The drama of the grandparent’s illness, however, doesn’t provide much narrative cohesion; instead, Walker simply throws in one danger after another until he decides to set up a sequel.
A fun but chaotic fantasy series starter.