Secrets of the Dragon Tomb: Book 1

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb: Book 1 Book Poster Image
High-spirited, funny steampunk adventure on Mars.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is not scientifically accurate in the least, but it does present a fantastical picture of the planet Mars in keeping with early science fiction. Alert readers will find hidden references to famous writers of modern science fiction.

Positive Messages

Family loyalty is important, but sometimes loved ones must be allowed to fail on their own. It doesn't pay to underestimate people who don't seem as smart as everyone else. No one should bury her own dreams to make someone else happy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan always puts his eccentric family first, watching out for them when they're about to get in trouble. He's brave in the face of danger and resourceful in a tight spot. His little sister, Putty, is even more ready to tackle any problem she faces.


Secrets of the Dragon Tomb has a small amount of violence, mostly sword fights and fistfights without much bloodshed. Young characters are threatened with sharp blades. A minor character is murdered. Mechanical crabs and "hunter tripods" attack Edward and his family.


Olivia and Cousin Freddie seem infatuated with each other, but they have little opportunity to act upon their feelings.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a fast-paced, high-spirited steampunk adventure, set on a fantastical version of the planet Mars. The level of violence is low, limited mostly to fistfights, sword fights without much bloodshed, and tussles with mechanical weapons such as the "hunter tripods."

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan is used to looking after the other members of his eccentric family, so he's particularly distraught when his inventor father, ex-socialite mother, and vain older sister are kidnapped by villainous archaeologist Sir Titus Dane. Dane wants Mr. Sullivan to rebuild his number-crunching "water abacus" and solve the puzzle of a map that will lead to the last treasure-filled dragon tomb. It's up to Edward, two of his sisters, and their mysterious cousin Freddie to race across the Martian desert and stop Sir Titus by any means necessary before he kills his captives.

Is it any good?

Mars has fascinated writers from H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and this fast, funny, and fantastical steampunk romp finds new life on the Red Planet. Author Peter Samphire uses some of the trappings of old-fashioned science fiction to power his plot, but the narrative is anything but musty, dashing from one hair-raising incident to another with verve and wit.

Jeremy Holmes' black-and-white illustrations add an extra dollop of good-natured wackiness. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will capture the imaginations of middle-grade readers eager for a sci-fi series that feels both unique and familiar.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about humankind's fascination with the planet Mars. How has it been depicted in books, movies, and comics?

  • Why do readers enjoy steampunk stories? What can stories set in Victorian times or earlier tell us about the present day?

  • Why might someone pretend that he isn't as smart as he truly is? Is it easy to underestimate people based on their behavior?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sci-fi stories

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