‘Tesser’ proves there are perks to being a dragon

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

To be perfectly honest, I get nervous when people gift me books.

When my uncle gave me “Tesser: A Dragon Among Us” by Chris Philbrook, I was understandably nervous. It was a book I’d never heard of, by an author of similar status.

I should give him more credit. “Tesser” was pretty cool.

The action starts in Boston with Tesser, the titular dragon, waking up to find things very different from when he went to sleep.

Taking a 10,000 year nap will do that.

Anyway, he assumes the form of a rat and, later, a man to learn about the world he now finds himself in. After becoming a minor Internet celebrity by stopping a rape in the nude (as if anyone would believe that a hobo could look like the mutant fusion of an MMA fighter and a Calvin Klein model), he becomes a bouncer at a pizza place and learns English far faster than he should by watching Kevin Smith movies and listening to people.

Perks of being a dragon, I guess.

The book flips between several characters, Tesser being but one of them. There’s also a modern-day wizard’s apprentice, his mentor, the police detective who investigates Tesser’s initial appearance into human society, a chemist who becomes Tesser’s girlfriend and the man who owns the company she works at.

The changes in narration are quick, fluid and rarely bog down the story. Each switch serves to advance the plot, revealing details that piecemeal in a way that allows the reader to catch on to the underlying plot without heavy-handed infodumps or similar strategies.

Probably the biggest problem the book has, is the speed at which the plot becomes apparent, relative to how quickly the plot progresses. Almost half of the book is devoted to Tesser acclimating to human society in a fairly typical fish-out-of-water story. Then, well, things happen, and Tesser completely upsets the status quo.

After that, the book shifts in tone to somewhere between “The X-Files,” the “Dresden Files” and “Constantine.” Tesser’s awkwardness around people stops being as much of a problem, partly because he’s had more practice and partly because he starts reminding people that he’s a 50-foot-long dragon as old as creation itself.

Philbrook tells an awesome story in half the space he used for the book, and I understand he needed to set the stage but the shift was so abrupt and so total that it was like reading two entirely different stories. It was jarring, to say the least.

Aside from that, the book is pretty fun to read. The characters are believable and each one’s interests and profession affects what they look at and how they look at it.

For instance, the apprentice is a college-age man whose first response to seeing a creature that basically bleeds magic, in a world where it is dying out, is to wonder whether it is a Marvel fan. His mentor acts like a doddering old man, but he speaks of World War I like he was there and has a compendium of artifacts and contacts that spans the world and history.

“Tesser” also has one of the creepiest villains I’ve ever seen. Mr. Host apparently staged a hostile takeover of the uncanny valley at some point, because the security chief looks and acts human enough to show that he’s a decent fake. His departure from it at the climax is disappointing, but also logical.

All told, “Tesser” was an unexpected adventure I didn’t know I needed until I was done.

One can only hope Philbrook has more like it up his sleeve.