Villain Keeper by Laurie McKay (The Last Dragon Charmer, #1). | My copy: ARC, 333 pages, Harper (Harper Collins Publishers), released February 3RD, 2015. | Source: The publisher via Goodreads First Reads. | View on Goodreads here.
Unexpected magic, villainous teachers, and dragons in disguise await readers in the first book of a delightful new tween adventure series by debut author Laurie McKay.
All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of being sent on a quest to slay a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Winterlands of Razzon and finds himself in Asheville, North Carolina—a land with no magic and no dragons. But a prince must always complete his quest. And the longer Caden is in Asheville, the more he realizes there is magic in this strange land after all. More important, there may just be dragons here, too. But what if Caden’s destiny isn’t to slay a dragon, like he’s always believed?
Fans of Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil and Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories will be transported by this first book in an epic new series for middle grade readers about a brave young prince’s quest to find answers, honor, friendship—and what it really means to be a hero.
Villain Keeper is a fun, charming, magical adventure story about a young prince, Caden, who just wants to finish his quest to slay a dragon and go home to his fantastical world of Razzon. But he’s stuck in Asheville, North Carolina, due to some mysterious dark magic, and finds himself in the middle of a swamp of banished evildoers who take the form of his school teachers and cafeteria workers.
I really enjoyed this Middle Grade novel by debut author Laurie McKay. From the very first chapter I was sold — although I would have liked some more time in Caden’s fantasy realm. (Perhaps in sequels?) And by page 8 there was a dragon sighting! You all know how much I love dragons. So this book had a very promising start. When Caden was transported to Earth and had a run-in with the police, it was equal parts awesome and awkward. Caden has no knowledge of our world, so telling the police his story sounds like complete bogus to them while to Caden it is the truth. Caden’s put into foster care and sent to public school. He has a terrible time adjusting to this new life, but does make friends with his new foster brother Tito and learns to respect their foster mom, Rosa.
Additionally, Brynne, a girl Caden knows from Razzon, also was teleported to Asheville. She’s quite a character, extremely stubborn but also very smart as well as sneaky. (The pink sparkly cell phones… Not very logical, but mad funny!) She is a sorceress, but what she lacks in control she makes up for in power. Caden and Brynne have a hilarious banter, with Tito as the sort of middleman. The trio discover the darker things at work at their school in Asheville while they work to uncover the secrets about and find a missing girl named Jane Chan. I thought that the whole Jane Chan plot-line was strung too thin and not as interesting as the mysteries behind Rath Dunn and Miss Primrose. We learned nothing about Jane until the very end of the book, so as a reader there wasn’t anything to make me care or worry about Jane.
Despite this one complaint I have, Villain Keeper is a hoot, what with Caden’s culture (or rather, world) shock and his personality clashing with other characters. At times I felt like the plot took a while to move along, but the great cast (oh, Sir Horace is wonderful) and Laurie’s engaging writing kept things interesting. I highly recommend Villain Keeper to younger readers, but I am sure that I am not the only 18-year-old who still loves Middle Grade books. ♦