Byx’s family was killed by soldiers. Now, he fears that he is the last of his kind, the endling. But legends tell of a carnivorous moving island where a hidden dairne colony lives in peace. Byx and his friends embark on a journey to find the island. They travel into the country of Dreyland, where they pass over snow-covered mountains, fight soldiers who wish to enslave them, and face other dangers.
Byx is surrounded by his traveling companions. The loyal Tobble. The brave and resourceful Khara. Gambler, who is wise but deadly. And Renzo, a thief who can perform magic.
But as Byx and his friends travel through Dreyland, they realize that the threat of war grows and their own country will soon be attacked. To make matters worse, there is a treacherous plot that could bring both Byx’s dreams and the creatures of their world to the brink of extinction. Will the unlikely leaders be able to find the last of the dairne? Can they stay safe from the soldiers who wish to kill them?
Tobble plays a larger role in this second book; his well-developed character is not only interesting but also explores the idea of bravery. Tobble and Byx do not feel brave or worthy of being leaders. However, they both use their own talents to protect their friends. At one point, Byx’s friend points out, “We all have our own particular fears, Byx. One can be brave nine times and be a coward the tenth time.”
A major theme that runs throughout the novel is the need to treat all species with respect. Several of the characters must face their fears. For Tobble, he must face worms. Through his experiences, he learns “never to judge a species on the basis of its appearance. . . Every plant, every animal, every insect serves a purpose. . . No matter how annoying, how ugly, how frightening, or how unappetizing it might be.” Through the character’s words and actions, the reader will learn that everything in the natural world is connected.
As the story progresses, the characters are less concerned with finding if there are more dairne and more concerned with a war that is brewing between countries. Khara hopes to unite the exiled families and lead them against the tyrannical leader. But Renzo doubts “that war can ever be waged with honor, mercy, and fairness.” As Byx and his companions travel, they often have to make decisions about morality. For example, when is it acceptable to steal? To kill? To fight? Even though the characters must make difficult life and death choices, they know that “in truth lies strength.”
Beautiful, descriptive language brings Byx’s world to life and takes the reader on an epic journey where friends valiantly risk their lives to help Byx find others of his species. Not only are the characters interesting, but they also grapple with real-life issues such as friendship, fear, and ethics. Although the publisher recommends the book for readers as young as eight, the story hits on some heavy topics and includes bloody violence, death, and war. The First is an amazing, entertaining story that will leave readers contemplating the nature of humans, their desire for power, and the importance of fighting for others.
- Birds attack Byx and his friends. The birds “hit us like a hailstorm, slamming into chests and heads, striking with the cruel beaks that had given them their name. In seconds, I (Byx) was cut on both arms, narrowly avoiding a slashing attack that would have opened my neck. I heard a dog yelp in pain as a razorgull sliced through his fur.” Trying to protect his friends, Gambler “plowed straight into the bird cloud, slashing and batting with nearly supernatural speed and accuracy. He caught one unfortunate bird which promptly disappeared down Gambler’s gullet. Lunch. Razorgull blood streaked the side of his jaw and the birds swirled away as they considered this new threat.” The attack lasts for four pages.
- When Renzo was ten years old, he was given twenty lashes for stealing.
- Renzo tells about his childhood when his master, Draskull, would beat him. “Draskull was not good, and he could be brutal. . . You see the heavier scars on my back? Those were left by Draskull. He liked to use a bamboo stick.”
- Byx and his friends go into a forest. They discover that the trees are alive, and “the branches were turning into giant worms.” The worms carry the group into a huge hole. “Luca screamed. Tentacles whipped around him with inhuman speed. He cried out again. I heard the horrifying sound of bones crushing. And then I, too, screamed in horror, as Luca’s bloodied body dropped into the pit.” When Tobble sees Luca’s dead body, he “bent over and vomited onto a knot of worms beneath him.”
- Several of Byx’s friends are captured by bug-like creatures who bury them. Khara’s head “was mounted on the side of the tunnel. Just her head. Sticking out from the dirt wall as if it had grown there naturally.” Later Khara reveals that, “I lay there, buried, helpless, believing I would have to remain there for days, hearing Renzo and Gambler weaken, knowing their hunger, knowing their fear. Knowing that it would take us a long time to die.”
- When soldiers spot Byx and his friends, Gambler “ran, leapt, let loose a terrifying roar, and hit the nearest man-at-arms while snagging a second with one extended paw. Khara swung her sword at a third soldier. He parried well, but his weapon was no match for the Light of Nedarra. Khara’s sword broke his in half, and with a backhand swipe, she sent him running. . . Renzo smashed the edge of his shield down on the man, who crumpled to the ground. . .I had my knife out, but I’d learned only one move. I shouted a mix of terror and determination and ran straight at the bit man as he aimed his staff toward me. . . I threw myself at the ground between his legs and slashed at a knee. . . Blood soaked his pant leg.” A man is killed when a soldier hits him with an arrow. The scene takes place over four pages.
- When Byx, his friends, and a group of slaves try to escape on a boat, archers begin firing at them. “One of the rowers was hit in the leg. Grimacing in pain, he kept rowing, despite the shaft sticking out of him.” The group rows into a reef, and the soldiers follow, but the reef breaks up the galley. “Maybe a few would find wreckage to keep them afloat. Maybe a few could swim well enough that they had a chance to reach shore. But most, we feared, would drown.” The escape scene takes place over three pages.
- As a diversion, Khara and her friends roll burning barrels down a path. As the group tries to pass the soldiers, a soldier stops them. In order to escape, “Khara had drawn her sword. She struck hard and fast, and the man who had questioned her spoke no more. . . We tore after Khara as she pursued the fleeing man. They disappeared from view for a moment, and when we reached them, Khara was panting and I saw a smear of blood on her face. . . A single guard was on duty . . . Khara came up behind him and smashed the hilt of her sword against the base of his skull. He would have a terrible headache when he woke up, but at least he would wake up.”
- When Khara’s father dies, she must fight in order to be the leader. Tobble is at her side and fights Mountain Morgoono. “Mountain cursed and swatted, slapping himself in an effort to grab the swift wobbyk. But Tobble was already atop Mountain’s head, legs wrapped around his neck, riding him like a child on his father’s back. And then Tobble went berserk. . . Tobble yanked out Mountain’s hair in tufts, tore one of his nostrils, and bit a sizeable hunk out of his right ear. . . Like a toppled tree, Mountain dropped. . . Tobble drew his knife and held it near the man’s throat.” Mountain Morgoono yields and the match ends.
- After Tobble defeats Mountain Morgoono, Khara faces Albrit. “Albrit dodged right, but as Khara passed, she managed to slice a red line in Albrit’s shoulder. She dropped from the rope at the end of its arc, spun, and faced Albrit, who charged, his own sword swinging horizontally with such force that it could have cut Khara in two. Khara ducked under the swing. . .” Khara defeats Albrit, who becomes her general.
- When soldiers see Byx and his friends, they chase them, shooting arrows at them. An arrow hits Maxyn’s horse, and Maxyn is captured. Byx and his friends leave Maxyn behind. Later when Byx finds Maxyn, he learns that “he’s been treated badly. . . His hands were wrapped in bloody bandages. His face was swollen. And his eyes, when they opened, seemed empty and lost.” Maxyn also had a swollen jaw, and “a deep cut, from ear to muzzle, oozed pearly blood.”
- Soldiers in boats surround a village, intending to starve the villagers out so they can capture and enslave them. In order to help the village, Tobble sets a boat on fire and runs it into the soldiers’ ship, which then catches fire. Tobble is able to reach the shore, but “he had singe marks on his fur. His face was smeared with soot. But he was grinning.”
- When Byx and his friends see soldiers coming their way, Byx decides to attack first. “I stabbed my knife at him, and he knocked it aside easily with his sword. My blade twirled like I was being pursued by a raptidon.” No one is injured.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Byx and his friends are close to a town. When they enter, “a loud and boisterous party was underway, including many drunk-sounding voices, and music was being played. . .”
- Byx is a dairne who can tell if someone is lying because she can “feel the falseness.” Byx explains that when he hears a lie, “there’s something missing, and you hear the wrongness of it. You feel it in your belly. . .”
- Byx and his friends go into a cave, where natites give them water that speeds the healing process.
- Some of the characters know “theurgy” which is the “study of spells and incantations.” Renzo sometimes uses magic while cooking. The magic “didn’t amount to much, though: a cold stew turned hot, a bland vegetable seasoned. One night he’d tried to impress us by popping tallin kernels. They’d turned into little fireflies and floated away on the breeze.”
- A natite has a fishtail and is “vaguely human in shape. . . Green flesh covered its powerful shoulders and chest, and two huge, writhing tentacles rose from the creature’s shoulder blades.”
- Khara has a magical sword that conceals its true nature until it is drawn in anger.
- There is a large moving island that is rumored to be carnivorous. Byx discovers that the island rides on Tarok, “a huge ancient water beast. Over thousands of years, the rare creatures accumulated layers of dirt and vegetation until they because, in essence, living islands.”
- The natite captures Byx and his friends. Their galley “sank with sudden, plunging speed. But even as we all cried out in panic, it became clear that the entire galley was sinking within a massive bubble of air.” The natites question Byx and then let him go.
- While underwater, a natite casts a spell, “Tamak on maaginen colloitsu, joka trojuu vett’ank antar simulle heng itsken.” When the spell is cast on Byx, he “felt something spreading across my body, as if someone were covering my fur with jelly. It was at once invisible and disturbingly slimy. When the goo made its way to my face, I felt a moment of panic.” The spell allows Byx and his friends to breathe underwater.
- Khara finds out that a sword has a spell of destiny on it. “A spell of destiny underlies all other magic, a curse and a prophecy. The sword will be drenched in blood in a great war.”
- Renzo tells Byx that he can “cast spells that confuse the eye, but not invisibility spells.” However, in the story he does not use the spells.
- A natite tells a story about how “a traitorous band of the Queen’s soldiers tried to abscond with the objects soon after our arrival here. As they escaped, there was a violent volcanic eruption. The gods, no doubt, were angered at their betrayal.”
- Tobble believes in Hanadru, “the great artist who lives in the clouds and paints the fate of all on her great easel. . .You may not believe in Hanadru, but she is one of the Pure Spirits of people.” To this, his friend replies, “I don’t believe in fate, whether it’s some god named Hanadru or someone else.”
- When Tobble is able to defeat his enemy, he says, “Hanadru was kind.”