Adam Osterweil, Author, Handprint, Author, Peter Thorpe, Illustrator , illus. by Peter Thorpe. Front Street $15.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1-886910-81-2

Middle-school friends Joe and Katie are avid players of DragonSteel, a fantasy card game that strongly resembles Yu-Gi-Oh! They purchase a computer version of the game at a mysterious store (the store conveniently vanishes once they step outside), and playing it literally sweeps them into the DragonSteel realm. There they are the "chosen ones" who must find five pieces of an amulet before an evil force beats them to it. Dialogue runs thin, from the wormy game-master ("No take-backs or do-overs—that's what the Great Prophecy says") to Joe's clueless, allegedly brilliant parents ("What about that island?... Isn't there some island where you can temporarily put boys his age?" says Joe's exasperated father, misremembering Lord of the Flies ). The plotting itself feels arbitrary; one deus ex machina after another moves things along, from magic spells to "power-up bonuses," transplants from the video game world. Osterweil (The Comic Book Kid ), a junior high teacher like the "Mr. O" who figures here, understands his topic, and he brings an appropriate level of energy to it. But if given the choice between reading this book and playing one of the games that inspired it, it's hard to imagine many kids choosing the former. The line drawings, while plentiful, have a retro feel that is at odds with the high-tech premise. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
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