When he was 9 years old, Bradley Nash was threatened by a strange man whom his father called a “hunter.” Bradley escaped, but now—three years later—he has no memory of these events. Nearly 12, he lives in a Florida trailer park with his family. It’s been a quiet life—until just before his birthday when Bradley gets an unexpected present from his parents: a handwritten book titled Mastering the Gallu Draig.
The illustrations depict dragons, and the text includes mysterious aphorisms like “The most important part of your journey is choosing your direction” and “What you need is always more powerful than what you want.” Meanwhile, the hunter is again targeting Bradley and others, this time with some dangerous allies. With the book comes an astonishing family secret that both explains why the hunter is after him and gives the boy a crucial task: Bradley must figure out who he truly is and what he cares about most.
A dramatic showdown will test his ability to come of age. In Matthews’ third dragon-themed middle-grade adventure, this one in a real-world setting, he more than fulfills the promise of his earlier fantasy novels. His writing is uniformly excellent, whether untangling complex lore with smart exposition or presenting the inner world of a young hero whose vulnerabilities (such as a debilitating fear of strangers) and caring nature make him very appealing. Despite its magical elements, Bradley’s quest matches well with every adolescent’s need for self-understanding, coming to terms with their family, and finding a life path.
His leap into maturity is especially well handled: The odyssey is both suspenseful and deeply moving.