Seven years ago, children from prominent families were hidden at a magical boarding school on the island of Avalon, their memories concealed to protect them. As Revealing Day approaches, the kids will finally learn who they are. For Tess Pendragon, an 11-year-old student with sandy-blond hair, the excitement is tempered by recent nightmares and visions of a dragon and a girl with dragon scales on her face prophesied to summon the Master of Darkness defeated long ago by Merlin. Her destiny and Tess’ are somehow linked. On Revealing Day, Tess learns of her royal heritage but is attacked by sinister forces. She must escape through a portal to the Old Realm, the haunt of those who lost the war with Merlin. Finding haven with trolls, Tess learns more about the Old Realm and joins a quest to find the Wand of Avalon, which can rally the Valiant Magic Alliance of powerful sorcerer families and creatures against the malevolent Order of Ra. But first, Tess will have to pass a test to prove she’s the rightful ruler. In his series opener, Matthews at first seems to be offering a Harry Potter clone: the boarding school, magic lessons, Malfoy-ish bullies, even the book cover’s font. It’s slow to get going, but once the school is left behind, the story becomes more original and compelling: lots of intriguing lore about Merlin, his two daughters, and the prophecy. Meanwhile, Tess gains a much more nuanced view of the Old Realm and its legitimate grievances. Though she’s improbably young for the role she’s preparing to play, Tess does show her mettle.

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