A YA fantasy features an underprivileged teen who starts displaying fantastic powers.
In this first installment of a series, young Marc Mondragon of Rifle, Colorado, is dirt poor. He and his mother, Jenny, struggle in the absence of his fireman father, who died. Making life worse are two thin bumps on his shoulder blades that might be cancerous and Deputy Brandwhite, who chases him for graffiti he didn’t spray. Marc has also been experiencing haunting dreams about a creature “speaking fire.” One day, after a night of pursuit by the deputy—which led the teen to an odd-smelling drainage pipe—Marc makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich. When he uses the wrong portion of the electric stovetop, he burns his hand but feels no pain. In his excitement, he bikes to the diner where Jenny works to show her. Elsewhere, the wealthy James Leopold Drakesel fears for his family’s legacy. He’s contracted the coldblooded Stone Stajinkski to kill numerous children who pose some sort of threat. Marc, meanwhile, encounters a cocky young skater named Steve Yabloka, who offers to get him a new skateboard. Later Marc learns that Steve is like him, impervious to flame, and even able to control it. It turns out that they both belong to the Dragonkyn. Crafting a sure-footed fantasy with familiar elements, Jones (Boy Who Ate America, 2007) grips readers with brisk pacing and a winning mythos. He also excels in portraying the teen traumas of acne, bullies, and classroom crushes, all underlined by an X-Men–style barrage of superpowers, including telekinesis and Firespew (spouting fire). Evocative prose lifts the narrative above the average coming-of-age action fantasy (“In his very pores a new relationship was forming with the gaseous alien called fire”). Throughout, Jones uses a substance called lix, which Dragonkyn drink from a canteen as a supposed performance enhancer, to warn against teen alcohol abuse. Agile storytelling allows readers to see the threat of rogue Dragonkyn in New York City and potentially elsewhere in future installments. A blowout ending should ensure readers will return.
A superhero series opener that should work quick, indelible magic on audiences.