I picked up The Dragon's Tooth at my library after loving Wilson's 100 Cupboards trilogy. I devoured Dragon's Tooth and couldn't wait until the library opened again to get The Drowned Vault and Empire of Bones, so I bought them on Kindle. Then I got to the end of Empire of Bones and . . . the story's not over, and the next book isn't out yet! *Insert appropriate devastated GIF*
The Ashtown Burials series is what you'd get if H.G. Wells, Mary Shelly, and Jules Verne traveled forward in time (because they could do that) and collaborated on writing a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. With consulting help from Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix. Have we invented a genre name yet for steampunk based on 1920s technology and aesthetics? That's what this is. Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones is a pretty good tagline. (Also some homage to Robert Louis Stevenson.)
Are you intrigued yet?
Wilson is awesome at creating detailed, grounded real-world settings and then springboarding out of them into vast imaginative landscapes. The Dragon's Tooth starts in a dingy motel in the middle of nowhere, MidWest USA. We meet Cyrus, Antigone and Daniel Smith, siblings trying to hold it together after the death of their father while their mother is in a coma. We spend just enough time to start really caring about these people when Boom! (literally) we're off on a mad chase to get to the Ashtown Estate, where Cyrus and Antigone have to join an ancient order of explorers who are their only hope of saving Daniel, who was kidnapped by some seriously strange henchmen (they have gills). And it just gets crazier from there.
There's so much to say about these books I don't even know where to start. They are stuffed full of action, danger, cool settings, weird magical powers, ancient monsters, secret inheritances, creepy villains, colorful characters of all sorts, even mythological ones (he uses a lot of Jewish mythology, which is fun and different). Each book is a roller-coaster ride (sometimes literally) of fast-paced adventure, but there is depth to the characters, an underlying theme or moral centre grounding all the excitement.
I cared deeply about Cyrus and his family. I loved the relationship between Cyrus and Antigone, and the loyal band of friends that joins them. Cyrus has a pretty serious hero's journey to go through; there are times when I didn't quite believe in the sheer intensity of what he has to face. But his companions are always there to make a wisecrack and pick up the pieces, bringing it back to the real. Lots of sometimes painful explorations of trust and loyalty, and in the end love is the only reason that makes sense, the reason Cyrus gets through.
Not unscathed, however. These are quite dark, fairly violent books. People die, sometimes in quite horrible ways. I would still call it middle-grade, but definitely the upper range. The villain of the third book is horrible in a particularly grotesque way. Wilson keeps upping the stakes, and I have no idea what he's going to do to top that nastiness!
I can't find any information on when the next book will be out. There will be a next book, won't there? Because these three were published 2011, 2012, 2013, and then in 2014 he put out Boys of Blur, which is not related. He can't possibly think it's okay to leave Cyrus and his friends where they were at the end of Empire of Bones!!
Ahem. I'm fine. But seriously . . .
These books are a smorgasbord, a cornucopia, a feast of all the things you can think of, like the buffet at Club Med!
For more marvelous middle-grade suggestions, visit Shannon Messenger's blog every Monday.