When Erec Rex’s adoptive mother disappears into a tunnel under a New York City sidewalk, 12-year-old Erec and his new friend Bethany go looking for her. Below the city streets they find a new world full of magic and enter a contest which, if they win, will make them king and queen of Alypium.
The Dragon’s Eye, the first book in Kaza Kingsley’s EREC REX series, is a fun, fast-paced children’s adventure featuring a magical world that’s hidden from modern society but can be accessed through a magical version of Grand Central station. When they get there, Erec and Bethany meet tricksy ghosts, make potions, learn a new sport, and get their own pets. They live in a castle, which is a welcome change from the closet Erec is used to sleeping in.
The magical competition involves growing gills and swimming below a lake inhabited by a sea monster to meet the race of water sprites who live there. Another task involves a hazardous maze and another requires them to steal something from a dragon. Bethany, who happens to be a math genius, gets plenty of chances to impress people with her brilliance as they complete these tasks. Although she’s only 13, she can talk intelligently about calculus and linear algebra and even uses the correct jargon, despite having no formal education. During all this, the kids must, of course, avoid the traps laid by the mean rich boy and his cronies who are eager to see them fail. There are a few adults who seem evil, too.
A big surprise to Erec (but probably not to the reader) is that his name is famous in Alypium. All this time his adoptive mother, who had magically changed his appearance, had been trying to hide him in the world of the “Losers” above, but his name gave him away when he entered their world. I couldn’t help but wonder, if she was so worried about him being found, why she didn’t change his name, too. Oh, well.
I know what you’re thinking: “This is HARRY POTTER.” But you’re wrong. This is not HARRY POTTER. And that’s its problem. Some of the story is cute, but it’s never very clever, and nearly every part of the plot has a parallel to HARRY POTTER, even down to the soul-sucking Dementors (which are called “Destroyers” in Kingsley’s work). It’s full of heavy foreshadowing and all of the adults are stupid. Despite the supposed danger, we never really worry about the characters.
The Dragon’s Eye is clearly meant to appeal to youngsters who haven’t yet read HARRY POTTER, or maybe are too young for how dark HARRY POTTER can get, and that’s fine. However, it’s hard to admire a work that’s so derivative but lacks the qualities that make the imitated work so brilliant. I think that most discerning readers who love Rowling’s series will be disappointed in The Dragon’s Eye. And if it didn’t want to be compared to HARRY POTTER, it shouldn’t have copied it.
I read the audio version which was produced by Simon & Schuster Audio and narrated by Simon Jones. Mr. Jones was a terrific reader. If you’re going to read The Dragon’s Eye, I recommend this version.