Cantor D'Ahma is a Realm Walker's apprentice, trained by his mentor Ahma to be able to see and travel through the portals that connect the nine Realms of the Solar System. At twenty years old, Cantor is finally ready to make his first unaccompanied trip through the portals. But only hours after his mission begins, Cantor finds things to be more difficult than he imagined, as he discovers that the Realms are filled with corruption and evil, and even the Realm Walker's Guild is not the pure and just organization it once was.
Even worse, his first mission — to find his dragon companian or Constant — has ended with Bridger, a clumsy and inept dragon who tags along even though Cantor would prefer to leave him. Without a true Constant, and still an initiate Realm Walker, Cantor must face a training that leaves him unsure if he even should follow the Realm Walker's Guild he seeks to join.
Things start out slow, with a few chapters of exposition and time in the main character's head. Unfortunately, this part of the novel drags. The character speaks at a level much higher than you'd guess from his background, and it seems out of sync with the actions he's doing during these chapters. Things slide into place a little better throughout the rest of the book, fortunately, but it still niggled me as I read.
Luckily, things speed up quickly, so that I was really turning pages by the end. I read the bulk of the book in one day, between ping-pong and in the middle of a car trip. It's really an engaging read and I kept coming back to it throughout the day. The action is well-spaced and does a lot to progress the story arcs, as Cantor sees Bridger becoming his Constant whether he likes it or not. There are also some interesting arcs set up with Cantor and Bixby, another apprentice who is also looking for her dragon, and is at Cantor's side throughout the book (thankfully, they've not developed a romance, at least in this book, which already makes the book better than most fantasy novels of its kind).
Unfortunately, things kind of hang at the end of the book. Rather than closing some of the story arcs that we encounter throughout the book, Donita K. Paul leaves us hanging, so that the story is incomplete without the second book. This was disappointing, but I admit it was a great tactic to make me want to read the second book; but it leaves me feeling jilted, rather than excited, so it's a little disappointing.
Overall, though, the book is great. It's even funny in many parts, and does a great job of establishing, and sets up some great characters for the next books in the series to build on and grow (though I wish it could stand on its own, too). Paul does a really good job of taking ordinary fantasy elements — dragons and riders, corrupt dictatorships, magicians and power — and mixing it all up into a new, original mix that's super gripping. It's a great book, and I highly recommend it to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers.
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