Villain Keeper is the first book of The Last Dragon Charmer, a middle-grade series that would have fallen right under my radar if Charlotte and Ms. Yingling hadn't reviewed it and its sequels. It doesn't have a particularly eye -catching cover, and the title doesn't really stand out, but it's got a great premise that isn't used nearly often enough, if you ask me: someone falls through a portal into another world, but the world they land in is ours, and the one they come from is the fantasy world with kings and magic and dragons.
So what would happen if a twelve-year-old prince on a quest to kill a dragon landed in Asheville, North Carolina? He (and the annoying sorceress acquaintance who got sucked through the portal with him) would get picked up by the police eventually. The police would confiscate the prince's sword and take his proud Galvanian snow stallion to a boarding stable, and the prince and the sorceress would end up in foster care and have to go to school.
Of course, the school is more nefarious than it first appears. There's a suspiciously nasty math teacher and a frighteningly mysterious vice-principal, not to mention the lunch-workers (aren't they always evil?). But of course the police aren't going to believe Caden when he warns them. They already want to give him a psych evaluation because he keeps insisting he's a prince and he's perfectly capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much.
I loved the tension between Caden and Brynne's beliefs about their capabilities and the well-meaning adults' desire to care for them and keep them safe. (I suspect this will resonate particularly with middle-grade readers.) I love that the villains at the school are the only ones who take Caden seriously.
I love that Caden is really annoying because he was brought up as a prince, and gracious and commanding behaviour doesn't go over well at a public school. I love the developing relationships between him and his foster brother Tito, who tries to teach him to fit in while gradually coming to believe his story, and Brynne, who seems annoyingly adept at coping with this strange world.
I really loved all the characters, including the adults. There's a nice underlayer of poignancy to Caden's adventures, because what Rosa and Officer Jenkins believe about him is actually true: despite his skills, training and magical gift, he is a lost child who needs someone to take care of him. (This probably resonated more with me, the adult reader.)
Villain Keeper ends with one plot thread neatly tied up, but a lot of questions still unanswered, and I look forward to the next book.
Belgian double-cooked fries: super crispy on the outside and super soft inside, with garlic aioli and chipotle mayo to dip in.