The Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson (Random House, 2011, middle grade, 482 pages)
After tragedy struck their family, The Archer Motel was home to young Cyrus, his sister Antigone, and their big brother Daniel. And their life at the seedy motel had a pattern of its own--depressing, but familiar. But when mysterious old Billy Bones arrives, gives Cyrus a set of keys, an invisible serpent, and a dragons tooth, and then dies, a cataclysmic series of events ensues.
Before Cyrus and Antigone can grasp what has happened, they find themselves at the Order of Brendan, an ancient institute dedicated to persevering order in a chaotic, magic, and dangerous world. But Daniel has been kidnapped by a legendary bad guy...and getting him back is more important to his siblings than becoming cooperative members of the community of monks, explorers, and heroes into which they've been thrown.
Unfortunately, the order also includes traitors. And even many of those who are loyal aren't at all convinced that Cyrus and Antigone should be allowed to stay. Because the enemy who has their brother wants the magical items Cyrus was given...and is on his way to get them.
This is an interesting twist on "the chosen child goes to school" theme, in as much as the Order of Brendan doesn't exactly welcome Cyrus and Antigone with open arms, comfortable beds, and any sort of explanation. Instead, they are given impossible tasks (three months to learn an ancient language, how to fly planes, how to fight, and more!), accommodation of a most unsavory kind, and mystery piled on mystery. With little help from anyone in charge, they must use all their ingenuity to untangle their mysterious circumstances, and the dark secrets of the Order (although they do find some strange allies). And all the while, the bad guy's plans are coming closer to fruition.
There's a lot of fast, fierce action, a lot of world building detail, and Cyrus and Antigone are characters to cheer for. Their sibling relationship was my favorite part of the book--it makes me happy when siblings are fiercely loyal to each other! I can't remember any moments of calm, quiet respite, which meant that this wasn't quite to my personal taste, but those for whom nail biting tension and thrilling action are of paramount importance should love this one. Especially recommended to fans of Rick Riorden--the mayhem, mythological allusions, and monsters should hit the spot nicely (although I'd say it skews a tad older than The Lightning Thief--some of the things the bad guy does are really disturbing. The Lighting Thief I happily let my eight year old read; this one is really best kept till fifth grade or older).
Edited to add: Just remembered something I wanted to say. Cyrus and Antigone's mother was an indigenous person from the jungle of northern Brazil (oddly, the exact wording (page 234) is "the mountain jungles of Guiana in northern Brazil"--perhaps it was supposed to be the Guyana Highlands Cloud Forests), which, in my opinion, makes Cyrus and Antigone main characters of color, and earns the book a place on my diversity in sff list up above. Both inherited their mother's "dark skin and black hair" (page 8)--pity Cyrus as shown on the cover is so very pale of skin. Sigh.
School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist all gave it starred reviews. Other blog reviews can be found at Eva's Book Addiction, Adventures of a Book Wyrm, and Fantasy Book Review.