Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
Ruuan is a very large dragon.
Twelve-year-old Greg Hart can't slay a dragon. He'd be lucky to win a fight against one of the smaller girls at school.
Now the magicians of Myrth have mistaken him for a legendary warrior, so they've yanked Greg into their world of sorcery and danger. Nothing will stop the people of Myrth from believing Greg will rescue King Peter's daughter from Ruuan the dragon. After all, Greg has been named in a prophecy, and no prophecy has ever been wrong before.
"This is a great book for youngsters who like fantasy. I love the word play throughout the book. The storyline is full of positive messages and lessons... There is a lot of adventure and suspense in How to Slay a Dragon and I had a hard time putting it down. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series." -- Annie Tupek; Netgalley
"...this story was amazing and so full of magic. fantasy, laughs, and adventures" -- Martha Merino; Sleeping Between Books blog
"…a fantastic fantasy novel…filled with adventure and humor." -- Sara Power, Books Your Kids Will Love blog
"...enough action to draw you in and enough word play to keep you thinking (and laughing) along the way." -- GMR, Insatiable Readers
"Every part of this story is extremely satisfying. The dialogue is hysterical, and watching Greg Hart battle his way through the death-defying tasks is a plot worth reading!" -- Amy Lignor, Feathered Quill
"With Greg as our unsuspecting hero and surprising twists that kept things interesting....the sequel could be something to keep an eye out for." -- Angie L. - Bibliophile Support Group
The Mighty Greg Hart
Greg Hart's name had never caused him trouble before.
It was nothing like the name for Winnie Weimar, who everyone at school was always calling "Whiney” Weimar. And it was way better than the one pinned on poor Richard Kinickey, more commonly known as "Icky Ricky” Kinickey. It wasn't even as bad as the one for Dewey Doolittle, who everyone called—well, Dewey Doolittle. No, Greg Hart had a perfectly normal name, which is why, for the most part, the other kids just called him Greg and were done with it.
Problem was, for twelve years now Greg's name may have simply been biding its time.
In the center of the woods behind Greg's house stood a large oak, where between two boughs rested a smattering of scrap wood that might have been called a tree house, had a person been feeling especially generous. There Greg sat, cross-legged on the creaking wood floor, writing in his journal, his tousled brown hair jutting out in all directions. Another boy might have written about the events of his morning, or even about his apprehension over starting junior high tomorrow, but not Greg. As always he chose stories more to his liking.
Today he'd been chased by a giant.
I was a little worried at first. With each step the giant took, the ground trembled and split. Huge boulders dislodged and crashed across my path. Trees toppled. Then it hit me.
An idea, that is, not the giant. Or a tree.
I screamed out a warning. The giant yawned. (It's not that easy to capture the attention of a giant.)
That's when I charged. Poor beast never even saw me coming. Imagine its surprise when I wedged my shoulder between two enormous toes and easily brought it to its knees.
Greg paused and held his pen to his chin. Truth was, he'd be lucky to survive a fight with a classmate, let alone one with a giant—compared to Greg, his classmates were giants—but the Greg Hart from his journal was capable of countless feats Greg would never take on himself, so he shrugged and scratched out an end to his tale.
A deafening roar shook the forest as the giant teetered first forward, then back, and dropped like a falling skyscraper, splaying the last of the trees. For twenty minutes the ground trembled, short in comparison to the hour it took to climb my way out of the newly formed cavern.
I didn't mind. Small price to pay for saving yet another kingdom.
"Cool,” Greg told himself as he snapped his journal closed and crammed it into the pocket of his jeans. What he wouldn't give to win a fight against a giant.
Of course, it's not like he'd never been in a fight before. It's just to date his experiences always leaned more toward getting beaten up rather than throwing any punches. About the only thing he had in common with the Greg Hart from his journal was that he could run really fast. Here he had plenty of experience—way more than any boy would have liked—but less, he feared, than he would need at his new school tomorrow.
No, Greg's strength was simply not one of his strengths. His smile drained away, and he fell back against the wall of the tree house, ignoring the groan of the buckling lumber.
Greg had spent all morning exploring the woods behind his house, where it was not uncommon for every bush to hide a monster, for the trees to pick up and move when he wasn't watching, and for animals to chase him at blinding speeds down the twisted paths, nipping at his heels with every step.
Imagining you're a hero could be exhausting work.
Soon Greg's eyelids began to droop and his head began to list, but his imagination was just getting its second wind. Before him appeared a courtyard filled with people, all shouting and waving their arms.
"Greg Hart! Greg Hart! Greg Hart!” they cheered, and there was Greg at the center of it all, grinning so wide it looked as if his head might split in half. Eyes fully closed now, the daydreaming Greg smiled too. He'd have fought a giant twice the size for half the glory.
Gradually the picture blurred and reformed, until next to Greg stood a pretty young maiden in a long, flowing gown. A huge man in a magenta robe and gold crown strode forward, a king, who spoke in a most grandiose tone.
"Our greatest thanks to you, young man. I must say, only the very bravest of heroes would have willingly marched into the lair of that fire-breathing dragon. No words can express our gratitude. No words at all. We shall remain forever in your debt.” In his mind Greg saw the maiden reach up on tiptoes to give him a grateful kiss, and the spectators threw their hats in the air and cheered even louder than before.
Greg woke with a start. Where would he ever find a young maiden who needed to stand on tiptoes to kiss him? Where would he find one willing to kiss him at all? He pushed the thought from his mind and tried to return to the courtyard, but the image wouldn't come.
He was still straining when a sudden rustling outside caused him to jump. It was not the sound of a giant, or a dragon, or even some unthinkable monster lurking in the bushes. It was worse. It was the sound of a big kid.
Greg leapt to his feet and peered between two scrap boards at the trail below. Ogre!
Greg recognized the crooked jaw, the squashed nose and bulging red cheeks, the jet black eyes set deep beneath the single heavy brow. It was a face that would have been happy on a boxer, but no, the face was not happy, and the boy was no boxer—at least not by profession. His name was Manny Malistino, only everyone called him Manny Malice, or better yet, Sir, if they thought he might be listening.
No sight in the world could have disturbed Greg more. True, Manny was in Greg's grade, but he seemed bigger than all the other boys at school combined. Surely he'd have graduated high school by now if he hadn't been let back so often—perhaps even got a good start on a technical vocation, provided he found one where he didn't need to think.
A sudden movement caught Greg's eye, and he knew at once he'd been wrong. There were worse things than the sight of Manny approaching. Kristin Wenslow was there too!
Quite possibly the cutest girl on the planet, Kristin was an unbelievably tiny thing (though certainly no shorter than Greg himself) with long, brownish hair that turned blond at the surface where the sun struck. Did she always have that many freckles? Too bad she didn't even know Greg was alive. Not that he was complaining—Greg always preferred going unnoticed to being chased by the big kids who did notice him—it's just, well, sometimes he wished he could be chased by Kristin. He couldn't believe she was out with a brute like Manny Malice, or that she of all people was going to be here to witness Greg's inevitable beating.
"Last one there's a rod and egg,” Manny shouted. With a shove he sent Kristin stumbling aside, and Greg wasted a lot of valuable time watching her flail her arms for balance when he should have noticed Manny running straight at him.
A normal boy would have taken at least a minute to climb the large oak. Manny took a more direct route. He let out a battle cry and jumped, and Greg jerked back as a row of cucumber-like fingers latched onto the edge of the opening in the floor at his feet. Threatening cucumbers, like those left out too long in the sun. Not that they were squishy or anything. On the contrary, they looked big and hard, and Greg had an idea they would look even bigger and harder if Manny rolled them into a fist.
The fingers squeezed. Greg's bowels squeezed harder. Maybe Manny did resemble the giant he'd just defeated on the pages of his journal, but Greg would have been a fool to think he could fare as well in real life. Manny's forearm shot up through the opening and braced against the wood floor. In a moment his head would pop into view.
Greg bit back a scream. Above was a loose board in the ceiling. Okay, several. He shoved one aside and scrambled through the upper opening just as Manny pried through the hole below. The escape was so narrow, Greg's feet were still swaying just inches above Manny's slicked-back hair when Manny's head popped through the floor and squinted into the relative darkness. Greg's breath seized in his throat. Only his mind raced on. For the first time in his life he was glad to be the shortest boy at school.
Slowly, deliberately, he pulled his legs up through the gap, cringing as the wood creaked under his weight. (Fortunately his was the type of tree house that would have sounded more suspicious if it ever stopped creaking.) Not until he made it out undetected did Greg breathe again. He peered over the edge of the roof at Kristin, only to have Manny's head pop through a hole in the wall not two feet below his own. Greg gasped, threw a hand over his mouth, and eased out of sight.
"Aren't you coming up?” Manny shouted down to Kristin in the same taunting voice he'd used countless times on Greg.
"I guess,” Greg heard Kristin reply. He fought back the urge to peer over the edge again. Instead he lay motionless, straining to hear as Kristin's grunts and groans marked her progress up the trunk below.
"What do I do now?” she called out, her voice sweet and innocent and everything Manny wasn't.
"You need to jump across,” Manny tempted.
"I can't jump that far.”
"Sure you can. What are you, chicken?”
Greg listened. Out of the silence came a scream. Greg's head snapped up, followed by the rest of him, and before he could stop himself he jumped to the rescue.
What was he thinking? Why should he believe he'd fare any better in a fall from this height than Kristin would? How did he expect to beat her down if he did? Why did stop signs have eight sides? These were just a few of the things Greg contemplated as he fell in agonizing slow motion toward the ground.
He thought a long while.
About halfway down he heard Manny ask Kristin why she was screaming. Kristin came up with a rather cute story about putting her hand on a beetle, and an eternity later Greg's feet struck a small puddle near the base of the tree. Jolts of pain shot through his shins and ankles, his knees buckled, and in spite of his best efforts to be quiet, Greg let out a groan that would have sent even the monsters lurking in the underbrush scurrying, if the splash hadn't already scared them off.
From above there came a shout. Shoes like boulders landed with a thud next to Greg's face. Large boulders, with no toes to wedge a shoulder between. Greg jumped to his feet. He risked one glance up at Kristin's confused face—could she be any cuter?—and ran for his house, his soaked sneakers squishing with every stride.
Throughout the pages of his journal Greg had been chased by monsters of every kind known to man, and more than a few of his own invention. None posed a bigger threat than the creature behind him now. His legs ached from the jump, and he could hear Manny panting just steps behind, but he didn't dare look back. Instead he shot down the path as though his life depended on it. Anyone who knew Manny would have agreed it was worth the effort.
Yet Greg was strangely hopeful. True, he was running for his life, but the fact he was able to do so proved he was good at it, and Manny was too heavy to handle the tight bending trails. Greg knew he couldn't be caught.
Unless, of course, he tripped.
A nearly hysterical scream split the air. It lingered there for a second, or as Greg measured it, five heartbeats, and then Greg found himself struggling atop a thorny bush, unable to get up, as the sound of Manny's footfalls grew nearer.
Twenty more heartbeats passed, during which Greg swore he heard a tree fall and at least two boulders dislodge. What happened next he wasn't exactly sure, only that it began with a blinding white light and a very long tunnel. He decided at that moment he must have been right. He had been running for his life, but apparently this one time his feet had not been up to the task.
"Is he alive?”
"Of course he's alive. Give him room. He may be a hero, but he still needs to breathe.”
When Greg opened his eyes his first reaction was to close them again instantly. This turned out to be his second reaction as well. He might have given it a third go had one of the hooded figures hovering over him not poked him with a sharp stick before he could get to it. Instead Greg yelped, and his eyes popped open.
He was no longer in the woods. He lay on a hard flagstone surface lit by a dim, flickering light. What little air managed to squeeze its way to him reeked of something familiar, though Greg couldn't quite put a finger on it, and wasn't sure he would if he could.
Greg shrank back as the surrounding figures drifted closer. Everywhere he looked, nothing but black robes and sticks. Inside the many hoods, only darkness. Finally one figure leaned over and peered down at him, and Greg felt a glimmer of relief at seeing the shadowed face of a man, even if that face was scowling.
"Doesn't look like much of a warrior to me,” the man said in an icy voice that would have made Death himself envious. "Are you sure you got the right one?”
"Of course, Mordred,” said another. "Look at his eyes.”
"Those are warrior eyes, all right,” said a third. "My Uncle Cedric had eyes just like 'em—only his were blue now that I think about it, and more bloodsho—”
"Yes, yes, Dimitrius,” Icy-Voiced Man nearly spat. "We all remember Cedric. Why do you suppose his feet are wet?”
"Uncle Cedric didn't have wet feet.”
"Quiet, everyone,” said the man who had poked Greg. "Stand back, you're smothering him.” He jabbed Greg again, but Greg sent him shuffling quickly backward by yelling twice as loudly as before.
"Careful, Agni,” someone shouted. "I think you hurt him.”
"Are you kidding? Do you know who this is?”
"I say we find out,” said Icy-Voiced Man. He raised one hand, causing Greg to flinch, but he was just drawing back his hood. His dark eyes stared without compassion past his stringy black hair as he locked gazes with Greg. "Who are you, boy? Tell us your name.”
"W-what?” said Greg, his voice two octaves higher than normal. He surprised himself by wishing it were Manny Malice staring down at him. Only, where was Manny? Or Kristin? For that matter, where were the woods behind his house?
"See. I told you the boy was no hero.”
"Wait,” came a voice from behind. "Give him a chance, Mordred. He's probably just disoriented from the trip. Go ahead, sir, tell him who you are.”
One by one the remaining figures lowered their hoods. Greg was relieved to see that beneath each was a face, some gleeful, others excited or anxious, a few that might have even been wary, but none as disapproving as the one from the man named Mordred.
"I-I'm Greg,” he told them. "Greg Hart.” Throughout the room men gasped.
"Wait,” Mordred commanded, holding up a hand for silence. He leaned closer and stared, as if daring Greg to lie to him. "Tell us, boy, are you from Earth?”
Greg swallowed hard before replying. "Do I look like an alien?”
Mordred's expression gave no hint of what he might be thinking.
"Where else would I be from?” Greg clarified.
One man slapped his knee and laughed. "I knew it!” A few others clapped, though they stopped rather abruptly when Mordred directed his stare their way.
A voice called out, "You did it, Lucky. You did it.”
A boy about Greg's age stepped forward and hovered over Greg, his mouth drawn into a wide smile, his green eyes gleaming. Unlike the others, he wore a bright orange tunic and tights that clashed badly with his even brighter red hair. "Of course,” he boasted. "Did you have any doubts?”
"Plenty,” someone shouted.
"I know I did,” said another.
"Me too,” came a voice from behind. The boy's smile temporarily faded as a general rumble of agreement erupted throughout the room.
"Never a one,” came a booming voice so commanding Greg couldn't help but roll toward the sound. High above towered an enormous man whose shoulders rose above everyone else in the room. For an instant Greg thought he'd found Manny Malice, but then he noticed the luxurious robe of magenta velvet, and the speckled gray hair peeking out from beneath a golden crown. The man put a hand on the redheaded boy's shoulder. "If we could count on anyone to find him, I knew it would be you.” He winked and added, "Good job, by the way. Always an amazement.”
The boy flushed as red as his hair and bowed. "It was nothing, Your Majesty. I'm only happy to serve you.”
"Please. It's just me, Peter, remember?”
"Sorry, Your Majesty—I mean—Peter.”
"Hah! You keep trying. You'll get it someday.” The man turned his attention to Greg then. "So, Greghart, you all right? You look a bit peaked. Can you stand?”
Greg debated. If he did he'd surely just drop this way again. Even so, the boy in orange helped him up as the robed figures replaced their hoods and eased into the shadows.
"Forgive me,” said the boy. "I should introduce you. This is King Peter Pendegrass the Third.” Out of the side of his mouth he whispered. "He's in charge here.”
With a great deal of effort, considering the distance he had to go, the king bowed low, as if he were the one in the presence of royalty. "I am quite honored to make your acquaintance, Greghart... and please, if you could just call me Peter.”
"Oh, and I'm Lucky,” the boy in orange added quickly.
Greg stared at him dumbly. "Good for you.”
"No, I mean my name is Lucky. Short for Luke.”
"Actually it's longer,” Greg said. "Hey, where am I?”
"Inside Pendegrass Castle, my dear,” replied a woman who stepped up from behind King Peter's elbow, "in the Kingdom of Myrth.” Like the boy, she had red hair, but with wisps of silvery gray, and like the king, she wore a velvet robe and crown. Well, not exactly like the king. The crown was similar, but her robe was about a third the size of her husband's and flowed with a grace befitting a queen, while King Peter's looked more like someone's feeble attempt at decorating a bear.
"Myrth?” Greg repeated.
"I think you'll find it a lovely place,” the woman told him, "that is, if you don't get too caught up in your noble purposes to enjoy it.” She smiled reassuringly. "Just promise if you get the chance you'll pause every now and then to savor the peace, agreed?”
"Yes, ma'am,” Greg said, though he had no idea what she was talking about.
"Oh, where are my manners?” Lucky cried. "Greghart, this is Her Majesty, Queen Pauline Pendegrass.”
"Queen Pauline?” Greg muttered.
The queen's smile widened. "I'm sorry, dear. I suppose this all must seem a bit overwhelming. Is there anything we can get for you?”
Greg felt his mouth open and close. A new mind might be good. Apparently he'd lost his old one.
Queen Pauline laughed, a soft, lilting sound. "Well, if you think of anything let me know. I promise we'll get through this as quickly as we can. I hate to subject you to it at all, really, but I'm afraid we have no choice. So many people have come to be a part of this historic event, and they'd be so terribly disappointed if they didn't get a chance to at least shake your hand.”
"Historic event?” Sure, Greg would describe this as one, but why would anyone else?
"Of course,” said King Peter. "I know we may look fancy in all this festive grandeur,” he said, indicating his robe with a sweep of his hand, followed by a roll of his eyes that only Greg could see, "but we're a humble people, really. It's not every day we get to see a prophecy fulfilled.”
"Prophecy?” Greg said.
With a light press on the shoulder, King Peter guided him toward a huge oak door set in the middle of one wall. "Oh, didn't we tell you about the prophecy?”
"You didn't tell me about anything.”
"Then I guess that would include the prophecy, wouldn't it?”
Greg stared at the man. "What prophecy?”
"Oh my. Well, I'm afraid we have no time for explanations. Everyone is waiting.” King Peter paused at the door. "Tell you what. If anyone presses you for details, just excuse yourself and say you need your rest. I'm sure they'll understand. After all, they can't expect you to go off hunting dragons without a good night's sleep, can they?”
Dragons? What was he talking about? Before Greg could object, King Peter pushed open the door and bright light spilled into the room. Greg protected his eyes with a hand, but he didn't need to see to know what waited outside. Just like in his daydream a short time ago, as soon as the thousands of spectators spotted him, they raised their voices as one and began to cheer and shout Greg's name.
"Greghart! Greghart! Greghart!”
Greg's mouth dropped open. To each side of the door stood a row of men with trumpets raised, cheeks puffing in and out with effort, but any music they might have made was lost beneath the deafening chant. Jugglers, court jesters and mimes worked the room, their antics unnoticed, as all eyes were glued on Greg, and Greg couldn't have been more uncomfortable had those eyes actually been pasted to him.
In one big rush the crowd pressed forward. Greg tried to turn and run but bounced off the king's stomach and dropped hard to the floor. A multitude of hands reached out and lifted him back to his feet, though Greg found it difficult to stand, as his knees had gone all wobbly.
"I touched him!” someone shouted. "I touched Greghart.”
"Ooh, I want to touch him too. Get out of my way!”
Limbs thrust out from every angle and knocked into Greg again. Surely he'd have fallen back to the stone floor, had he more room to work with.
"Order, people! Order!” In spite of King Peter's informal manner, the crowd backed up at once and bowed.
Greg used the extra elbowroom to drop back to the floor.
"Careful, Greghart.” Lucky rushed forward to help Greg up again and used a bright orange cap that matched his tunic to brush the dust from Greg's jeans. Queen Pauline floated into the room to join her husband, but the men in black robes stayed behind, nearly invisible in the shadows.
"I hate to get caught up in formalities,” King Peter called to the crowd, "but I feel we must observe some sense of order here, if only to avoid crushing our young hero.” He winked conspiratorially and added, "We don't want to hurt him before the dragon gets a shot at him, do we?”
Everyone chuckled. Everyone but Greg, that is. Is the room closing in on me?No, just the people in it. Not until the room quieted did he manage to find his voice. "What's this about me slaying a dragon?”
The king didn't seem to hear. "Let's see, where should we start? Ah, yes. Greghart, you must meet my eldest daughter, Penelope.”
"But you didn't answer my ques—”
Once again Greg's mouth lost the ability to form words. An older girl, about seventeen or eighteen, stepped from the crowd and approached with the same grace Queen Pauline had displayed. Her elegant gown wafted out as she walked, adding fluidity to her movements, as did her fiery red hair, and Greg quickly decided he'd been fooling himself when he thought Kristin Wenslow could possibly be the prettiest girl in the world.
Then again, this didn't seem to be the world he was used to.
Princess Penelope stepped within arm's reach, where she towered over Greg by a full head, and looked down at him in more ways than one. "You're hardly what I expected.”
"Ha! Isn't she lovely?” blurted King Peter. He slapped a palm over his daughter's mouth and helped her, with no small amount of effort, to raise a hand toward Greg's lips.
Greg craned his neck backward to the limit, but, after considerable pressure from King Peter, the princess's hand followed. Seeing no other option, Greg kissed the creamy white knuckles awkwardly, only to have the princess yank her hand back the same way Greg had once done when he was gathering firewood and accidentally grabbed the tail of a snake.
"Just lovely,” King Peter muttered. He guided his daughter to her mother's side much the way a lion guides an antelope to the ground, and no sooner had his palm left Penelope's mouth than Queen Pauline's flew in to take its place. Greg watched the veins in Penelope's neck bulge nearly as big as Manny Malice's biceps as her mother led her away amidst a chorus of muffled protests.
"Let's see, who should be next?” King Peter said. His smile faded, and a look of sadness came to his eyes. "I wish you could meet my youngest, Priscilla, but... I'm afraid she couldn't be with us tonight.”
"What was it you were saying about dragons?” Greg tried again.
King Peter pulled himself together enough to offer a disapproving look.
"Introduce me!” a woman called out from the crowd.
Greg ignored the outburst. "You did say dragon. I'm almost sure of it.”
King Peter strengthened his glare. He called Lucky forward and whispered something into the boy's ear.
"Yes, sire. As you wish.”
Greg felt Lucky's hand lock over his wrist. He might have pulled away had he not so appreciated the support.
"I'm sure you will all understand,” King Peter announced to the crowd, "if the Mighty Greghart needs his rest.” The resulting groan shook the floor, though the effect was lost on Greg, who felt the floor had been shaking plenty already. Clearly all these people thought he was some sort of hero, and while Greg had to admit it brought out feelings he'd never felt before, and quite good feelings at that, he would have far preferred to wake up in the woods behind his house with mud on his face and a large lump on the back of his head.
The crowd stared in silence. Greg stared back. He felt compelled to say something, but just as he opened his mouth, a grip stronger than any monster from his journal yanked him from the room.
Outside, Lucky pulled him along what seemed like hundreds of passageways. With each turn Greg became more and more lost, a waste given how lost he'd been before the trip even began. The entire way Lucky refused to answer Greg's questions. Eventually the boy pushed open a random door and stepped into a side room, dragging Greg along behind.
Under different circumstances the stately furnishings inside might have stolen Greg's breath away, but Greg had no breath left to steal. He'd squirreled away just the one little bit, which he spent now to ask the question pressing heaviest on his mind.
"What was King Peter trying to say back there about a dragon?”
Lucky smiled, the expression so genuine, for just a moment Greg nearly forgot he was literally in a world of trouble.
"His name is Ruuan, Greghart. You're going to slay him. But all that can wait. You need to get to bed. Like King Peter said, you don't want to go off chasing dragons without a good night's rest.”
Greg's jaw dropped. He didn't want to go off chasing dragons, period.
"Well, good night,” Lucky said.
"Huh?” Greg cleverly replied as Lucky stepped from the room and drew the door closed. Greg rushed forward and grabbed the knob, but it wouldn't turn. To his horror he heard the sound of a lock being latched.
"Sorry, Greghart,” came Lucky's voice from outside. "King Peter's orders. Don't worry. It's for your own protection. I'll see you in the morning, okay? Sleep tight.”
"No, wait,” Greg cried, but he could already hear Lucky's footsteps echoing down the hall. Only then did he realize he was trapped.
What's worse, if he didn't somehow find a way out of here, it looked as if he would be off hunting dragons in the morning.