Nightmarish visions prompt desperate gambles for young magic-wielder Fort as he continues his efforts to rescue his father from the mysterious Old Ones.
Showing no inclination to pick up the opener’s plodding pace, Riley marches his preteen spellcaster through wordy reveries and exposition, conveniently overheard conversations, and recurrent dream encounters with a foe given to ALL-CAPS bombast as one ill-starred rescue scheme gives way on the fly to others. Doing his best to shuck annoyed friends and allies who insist on saving his bacon anyway, Fort eventually finds himself in a subterranean realm facing dwarves, elves (one elf, anyway), huge monsters—and an Old One who turns out to be a dragon willing to help subdue his three repressive kindred elementals before laboriously “fathering” an egg. (Just to muddy the waters a bit more, the titular dragon turns out to be another one altogether, hiding back on Earth and remaining offstage throughout this episode.) Magic, mostly teleportation and telepathy with admixtures of mind control and the occasional exploding fireball, gets brisk workouts, but in the end, the dark is still rising. Fort seems too colorless to inspire the sort of loyalty he gets from his supporting cast, which is well stocked with firecrackers and wild cards. Again, Fort’s circle isn’t entirely white, but the default is in operation.
A muddled middle, with little sign of movement toward a final conflict or resolution. (Fantasy. 10-13)