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Villain Keeper: The Last Dragon Charmer, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Villain Keeper: The Last Dragon Charmer, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Villains, dragons, prince meet middle school in fun romp.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

There's more magic than schoolwork here, although several key scenes occur at school. The math teacher takes an unusual approach to his subject, making each lesson revolve around the number of casualties in some catastrophic disaster. There's also some local color about Asheville, North Carolina, and the surrounding area.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, honor, loyalty, and learning to work together to achieve a goal. Also of being alert and willing to change your mind when you learn something new.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The kid protagonists -- Caden, Brynne, and Tito -- are brave and determined and display various strengths of character, from Caden's principled royal upbringing to Tito's practical advice for surviving middle school. Caden comes across as arrogant, and Brynne's magic leaves a lot of wreckage. Some of their adventures involve tricking, deceiving, or disobeying adults and sneaking out at night. Foster mom Rosa (as well as Officer Levine, who's sweet on her) takes no guff from the kids and cares for them ferociously. One of the more mysterious adults may in fact be a dragon who devours people.

Violence & Scariness

Scenes of epic combat with monsters and dragons, in which the kids (and the steed Sir Horace) suffer various wounds and injuries. An adult slashes Caden with a magic dagger in school. A girl disappeared at the same time Caden and Brynne arrived in Asheville, and the kids are sure she was kidnapped. One of the adult characters may be a dragon who devours people. Caden's mourning the loss of his murdered brother and learns more about who may be behind the crime; the villains have caused much war, death, and destruction in Caden's world. A character flings a plate of spaghetti at another kid in the school cafeteria.

Language

Occasional references to "butts"; a character says another is "screwed" by a curse. Recurring humor with Tito's efforts to discourage socially clueless Caden from gesturing with his middle finger.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Villain Keeper, the first book in debut author Laurie McKay's middle-grade fantasy Last Dragon Charmer series, lands two 12-year-olds from a magic kingdom in many perilous situations. In Asheville, North Carolina, an adult stabs a kid; another kid's been kidnapped; and creepy characters abound, but so do the laughs as the tween prince and sorceress deal with villains who've murdered thousands in their world. They also deal with the perils of the foster care system and middle school. The story's off to a promising start in this installment, as very different characters become friends, work together, and pool unexpected talents. Courage, kindness, and honesty are strong themes, but the young characters disobey their guardians and steal things when they think it's necessary for their quest. 

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What's the story?

When his father sends him off in the dead of night to slay a dragon, 12-year-old Prince Caden of Razzon proudly embarks on the quest with his noble steed, Sir Horace. But things quickly go awry, and Caden and Sir Horace land in Asheville, North Carolina, along with Caden's childhood playmate Brynne, a sorcerer in training. In these quaint surroundings, they're soon dealing with unwelcome attention from the authorities and learning the mysterious ways of middle school. Far more alarming: Many of the locals prove to be vicious criminals from Caden's world, held (barely) in check by the power of the mysterious VILLAIN KEEPER.

Is it any good?

At first, Villain Keeper seems like a fairly standard fantasy outing (although one with entertaining snarky dialogue), but it soon reveals unexpected charms. Caden's unease grows as much of what he's taken as truth his whole life turns out to be anything but, and he struggles to do the honorable thing in situations he never imagined. Caden and Brynne's character flaws wreak comic havoc as they work on their magical skills, causing their pal Tito much grief along the way. The redoubtable steed Sir Horace is bold and entertaining; most of all, there's the memorable Ms. Primrose, whose complex relationship with Caden is intriguing. The story moves along at a fast clip, with flashbacks as Caden recalls his kingdom's past from new perspectives. Many kids will get the giggles from Caden's tragicomic adventures in middle school.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about characters from other worlds landing in ours are so popular. What's the appeal? What other characters do you know who find themselves in this situation? 

  • What other stories do you know that involve dragons? Are they always about slaying the dragon, or do things take a different turn?

  • If the teachers at your school were all hiding a secret identity, what do you think they'd be?

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