When an explosion awakens young Ruddy in his dungeon bedroom in Castle Chaos, he escapes to the top of the tallest tower and tries to flee by transforming into his true form: a fire-breathing dragon. Instead, he's captured by the Royal Watch and registered for classes at the Royal Academy for Creature Habilitation, a juvenile hall for young monsters.
Under the watchful eye of his undead principal, Mr. Mortis, Ruddy must deal with his werewolf and goblin roommates and contend with a pair of troll-orc bullies bent on showing him who's boss at this school. But it all gets worse when a famed monster hunter turns up dead and the dragon kid is accused of his murder.
Ruddy and his new friends must work fast to clear his name. Otherwise, Abbot Pious will declare him guilty, close down the school, and put him to death!
Matt Forbeck is well known in the gaming and media tie-in world and we keep crossing paths in discussion groups, social media, and the convention circuit. I was looking for some new names to include here, and when Matt suggested MONSTER ACADEMY I couldn't have asked for anything more appropriate. – Kevin J. Anderson
"It is a book for anyone who wants a little escapism for the weekend, regardless of age. But, for parents of young adults who want to stretch their kids' thinking, this is a must-read. The main character, Ruddy, is inquisitive and asks tough questions about life, death, and the nature of hate and virtue. He is a frightening fire-breathing dragon with a heart too big for his magical human form and, at a time when most of our heroes are very flawed, it is lovely to have a hero who is innocent, true, and courageous."– Alex at Mighty Distractible
"This is a novel that works on almost every level for me…Matt Forbeck has another win on his hand. I wasn't really sure what to expect from it, exactly, but I can say that it was a hell of a lot of fun. This is a great young adult book, of the sort that I'd have loved to read as a kid. 9/10!"– Abhinav Jain
"This was a wonderful, enjoyable read. It is an entertaining way of exploring ideas celebrating diversity. I look forward to reading the next in this trilogy, as Matt Forbeck has created some wonderful characters, and I want to see what they do next."– Ellen Forsyth
"Matt Forbeck does an amazing job of integrating character qualities while keeping the story flowing with quick-witted dialogue, interesting plot points, and even some darker, mysterious tones. If you enjoy fast-paced books interwoven with fantasy and strange creatures, you'll simply love Monster Academy!"Mariah Beem
The first explosion rocked the lonely castle straight down to the dungeons and threatened to topple it off the mountainous crag from which it stabbed into the sky. Ruddy's ears rang like a bell tower at high mass, and pebbles and dust rained down from the ceiling of the boy's underground cell, coating his mop of shaggy red hair with a layer of dry filth. The sudden noise and shudder surprised him so much he gasped and sucked the crud into his lungs, which sent him into a fit of hacking coughs.
Ruddy wiped the muddy residue from around his tearing eyes and wished his cramped, cut-stone cell had even a tiny window through which he could get some air and look outside to see what was going on. He knew it would have exposed him to the chilly mountain air into which he was sometimes allowed to venture — always under strict supervision — but he'd never feared the cold. He would have traded every bit of that supposed protection for a sliver of a view of the valley below.
Then another explosion shook the whole place, and for the first time in his life the boy felt grateful to have fifteen feet of solid stone all around him.
"Ruddy!" Alphonse called through the cold-iron bars in the cell's only door. The wizard's voice cracked with panic. "Ruddy, my boy! Are you all right?"
"Yes!" Ruddy wanted to say more, but the dust in his throat turned even that one word into a croak.
Alphonse fumbled with the lock and dropped the key. Cursing, he fell to his knees, searching for it in the dim hallway that ran to the door.
Ruddy coughed up something dark nasty and spit it out. "What's happening?"
"They're here." The key scraped into the lock and turned.
The thick door of iron-bound wood swung open on creaky hinges, and pudgy, pasty-skinned Alphonse stood framed in the doorway. The jewels on his velvet robes of midnight blue sparkled in the reddish light that flickered from the top of the long black staff he held in his hand.
"The Royal Watch," Alphonse said. He charged down the short flight of stairs that led to the floor of the high-ceilinged room and grabbed Ruddy by his unwashed tunic. "They already got Yara and Bailey. The blasted guards are trying to surrender. We're the only ones left, and we don't have long."
Ruddy's heart froze for a moment, then burst with a blaze of hope. Might this finally be his chance to leave this wretched place behind? He'd not known another home since he could remember, but he'd hated nearly every moment in this barren place. He didn't understand who these watchers were or what they wanted here, but if he could escape in the confusion of their assault, he might finally be free.
Alphonse hauled Ruddy up the stairs by a spindly arm and dragged him into the stone-lined hallway beyond. From there, the wizard pressed up the narrow spiral staircase that led to the top of the castle's highest tower, huffing and puffing as he went.
Hoping to stall for time to think, Ruddy dragged his feet. If the wizard felt Ruddy resisting, though, the boy couldn't tell. He yanked him along just as hard either way.
Soon, Ruddy tired of barking his shins on the stone steps. He gave up trying to hang back and trotted behind Alphonse instead as they climbed up the twisting stairs.
"Where are we going?" Ruddy asked, hoping that questions might slow Alphonse down instead.
The wizard ignored the boy, who could see sweat running down the back of the man's neck, darkening his robes.
"Where are we going?" Ruddy said louder.
"We're leaving this place, far behind." Alphonse glanced back over his shoulder and spoke in a brittle voice, his face pale even in the magical light. "You're the cause of all of this, you know. We were fools to think we could ever keep you. I just didn't think they'd find out so soon."
Ruddy wanted to laugh, though he didn't find it funny. Alphonse and the others had imprisoned the boy here in the keep, almost since he was hatched. While those twelve years might not have seemed like a lot to the aged wizard, to Ruddy they stretched to cover his whole life.
"But where will we go?" Ruddy said, curious now. Knowing little of the world outside of the mountains around the castle, his ignorance pained him. He ached to see more of it than Alphonse and his friends had ever permitted.
The wizard ignored the question. "It was that flight Yara took you on the other day, I'll warrant. I warned her against it. 'Someone will see,' I said. She just laughed it off."
Ruddy had loved every minute of that flight, even with Yara riding on his back, prodding him on with her spurs. His keepers rarely gave him a chance to stretch his wings, and he couldn't remember ever having had so much fun. To feel the wind all around him, lifting him up into the air, had seemed like a dream.
Despite Alphonse's reservations — or perhaps because of them — Ruddy had yearned to stay out longer, to wheel higher into the sky, to soar among the clouds, the sun shining on his crimson scales. Yara had let his enthusiasm carry her along for a bit, but all too soon she'd gotten scared. She'd put her sword to Ruddy's throat then, and made him come down and change back into a boy.
Alphonse and Bailey had been furious. Ruddy had been confined to his quarters in the dungeon ever since.
Ruddy had spent so much time as a human that it seemed more natural to him now than his true form. Red hair and pale, freckled skin stretched over a skinny frame—he wanted to shed it all and fly free once more. He thought of doing so here and now, but that would have only gotten him stuck there in the stairwell.
Soon, he told himself. Soon.
Another explosion slammed into the tower. This one, closer than the rest, knocked Ruddy off his feet and out of Alphonse's grasp. He tumbled back down a few steps before he could catch himself.
As the dust settled, Ruddy peered up at Alphonse, who crouched toward him from the higher stairs, his hand reaching for Ruddy's. The wizard shouted something at him, but Ruddy couldn't make it out over the ringing in his head. Blood trickled from one of Alphonse's ears, forming a rivulet of black sludge as it flowed into the dust caking his face. He didn't seem to notice.
Giving up on conversation, Alphonse pulled Ruddy to his feet, and they started to climb again. Long, tall archers' windows now lined the stairwell. Ruddy only got glimpses of the land outside as they trotted past, but in every direction he saw people — warriors — in red tabards and silver armor standing outside the castle, carrying torches to ward against the approaching dusk.
Although he'd never seen them before, Ruddy knew these people must be from the Royal Watch.
The watchers had no siege engines with them—no large weapons designed to bring down the keep, the kind Ruddy had read about in Yara's books—but they didn't need them. As long as they had enough wands on their side, they could knock the entire castle to rubble overnight.
In that instant, Ruddy understood Alphonse's panic, and he began to share it. If he and the wizard didn't leave soon, they would be captured — maybe even killed if the castle came down on top of them.
The boy sprinted after Alphonse now, his legs pumping for all they were worth. The wizard let go of his arm so they could make better time.
The mad dash left Ruddy gasping for breath, coughing up the last of the dust in his lungs. His heart slammed in his chest as the pair finally reached the wooden hatch set into the tower's roof and emerged into the encroaching dusk. Ruddy scrambled over to the battlements that lined the flat, round roof and peered between a pair of crenellations. As he looked down, he saw a ball of fire arcing up toward the tower, blazing orange and crackling with uncontrolled hunger. He pushed himself away from the tower's edge, even though he knew it was too late.
The sphere of fire slammed against the side of the tower, several levels below the open circle of stone on which Ruddy and Alphonse stood, and exploded. The entire tower creaked, and Ruddy felt it begin to sway.
Ruddy fell to his knees and threw his arms around the nearest crenellation as if it was the stump of a tree he could anchor himself to. He stared down at the red-robed watchers below and wondered from which direction the next spell might fly. "Maybe coming up here wasn't such a great idea."
"It's our only chance," Alphonse said as he slammed home the latch on the hatch, sealing the roof off from anyone who might storm up the stairwell in pursuit. "Don't you forget that, Ruddy. We're in this together. They want you as bad as they want me — worse, even — but if we stick together, we might escape alive."
The wizard trembled before him, although whether from the chill wind snapping through his robes or the shaking of the tower, Ruddy could not tell. The boy had learned by hard experience never to trust Alphonse. He didn't think he should now, but he couldn't bring himself to abandon the old man here atop the tower either.
Alphonse reached for Ruddy's hand.
The boy gave it to him. Perhaps he'd be able to get away from the wizard later.
A glorious sunset painted the sky above the tower in glowing oranges, purples, and reds as Alphonse led Ruddy into the center of the tower's roof. It seemed like the world was on fire, or the heavens were bleeding, or both. Not having seen too many sunsets, the boy paused for a moment in wonder. Even with the sound of the watchers chanting something on the fields far below, the beauty of the wider world stunned him, and he hesitated.
"Now, Ruddy," Alphonse said, his authoritarian voice cracking. "You must change now!"
Ruddy wrenched his gaze from the sky and stared at Alphonse for a moment. The wizard had terrified him for so long that at first Ruddy didn't recognize the fear shining so bright in his eyes. When he finally did, he realized that Alphonse may have been many things to him, but the boy had never thought of him as so human.
Giving Ruddy the space he needed, Alphonse scrambled to the tower's edge and glared down at the distant attackers. "Look at those smug Watchers." He glanced back at the boy.
"Seriously, take a look at them. Those are the winners, Ruddy, the ones who destroyed nearly every monster in the entire land, who almost drove your magnificent kind to extinction—save, perhaps, you."
"This isn't a game." Ruddy stayed rooted where he was.
"No, it's not. It's life. And in life, the winners make the rules." The rueful look on Alphonse's face grew dark again. "Change, damn you. Now! We don't have time to chat."
Ruddy grimaced at the man. Then he looked down at his bare, dirty feet and tried to focus, to reach deep inside himself, to slough off the shell he showed the world.
Ruddy felt it start to work. His skin itched as it transformed into scales, changing in hue from a freckled, pasty white to darker than blood red. His bones creaked as his face pushed out into a fang- filled snout and his wings unfolded from the middle of his back. They snapped out like blades from scabbards, and Ruddy groaned in pain and relief as he flexed the stiffness from them.
Then a final ball of fire blasted into the far edge of the tower, right where Alphonse stood glaring at the boy. Ruddy saw the glow of it approaching and opened his snout to warn the wizard, but the sky behind Lucent exploded before the boy could utter a word.
The concussion of the blast knocked Ruddy back and slammed him against the battlements behind him. At the same time, it smacked Alphonse high into the air and catapulted him straight over Ruddy's head. Then gravity grabbed the wizard once more and hauled him down past the edge of the tower's roof, out of sight. Either unconscious or dead already, he fell without a scream.
Then, despite the fact that Ruddy wanted nothing more than to take to the sky and escape the horrible, wrecked place he'd been forced to call home, his swimming head drowned in blackness.