Posts Tagged ‘Children’s Fantasy’


I hadn’t thought my heart could break any more than it already had. Apparently I was wrong.

Premise :

Sora believes herself to be a kami, a Japanese guardian of the natural world. Kami have made their home on Mt. Fuji for generations, and now Sora lives there with her kami parents and community.

But when hordes of ghosts invade the mountain with the help of a demon, Sora finds out that her whole 17 years of life have been a lie: she’s a decoy, a human changeling given temporary kami powers only to protect the identity of the true, prophesied kami heroine who will save Mt Fuji from certain doom. Sora’s last responsibility to the kami is to find and prepare the prophesied one to save the beloved mountain kingdom. YA Urban Fantasy published September 13, 2016 by Another World Press

About :

A Mortal Song, an action-oriented Fantasy set in modern Japan, turns the expected YA Fantasy trope—”Prophesied teen hero saves the world!”—upside down. I requested this arc based on freshness of the premise and the fact that Megan Crewe’s other work sounded so promising. But the book turned out to be a complete 4 star surprise!

First Impressions :

My first impressions, upon starting the book, were negative. The first 15-20% of the book is the weakest section, to my tastes, for two reasons: (1) I already knew the first “reveal,” which Sora spends the first 10% learning. (2) Right off the bat, Sora’s apparent crush on her friend Takeo bored me; the descriptions are painfully clichéd, such as, “My heart skipped a beat.”

But when I met some of the well-drawn secondary characters, near the 20% mark, I realized A Mortal Song was going to be more than a plot-first three star with lackluster characters. It took a little while to interest me, but I was totally hooked by 40%.

And about that boring crush? Just wait till you see how that turns out. Sora is awesome.

Other Awesome Things :


(1) A Mortal Song is so Japanese! Especially the good mix of unique and well-trodden mythology. I mentioned that I enjoyed the hints of Asian culture in Keira Drake’s The Continent, but those were background noise compared to the rich, thriving culture and mythology of A Mortal Song. Just the idea of the nature spirits that live on Mt. Fuji feels very Japanese, but add in the descriptions of modern-day Tokyo, the supernatural creatures and the style of warfare, and we have a totally unique YA Fantasy.

(2) The action. I felt like I was playing a video game as I read the fight scenes. The large, well-developed cast of heroes fights their ghost and monster opponents with both typical and atypical weaponry—legendary swords, yes, but also charmed slips of paper called “ofuda.” Sora and the human fighters slap ghosts with the ofuda to banish them to the underworld. In addition to the exciting action scenes, Sora actually solves problems creatively, which is a fresh attribute in a YA heroine. She combines human and kami techniques to make good tactical decisions.

(3) The plot never gets bogged down in character-building, but the female heroines are wonderfully drawn. The true kami heroine, Chiyo, is such a great character! I love her relationship with her human boyfriend and how she and Sora are both so strong, but so different. Sora’s character arc is particularly complex and interesting. She has to accept the loss of her kami powers and learn to think as a human. It’s exciting to watch her accept and use both her human and kami skill sets during the course of her heroine’s journey. I love the climax of her character arc and I’m so excited for readers to meet this new heroine.

Complaints :

(1) The antagonist isn’t entirely believable, although his plan is creative. (2) The guy characters basically feel like props to fill out the character arcs of Chiyo and Sora.

Overall :

A surprisingly moving read. The beginning and ending of the book are the weakest points, but as far as emotional resonance, the middle—from 35-95%—is full of surprises.

Recommended To :

Teens and adults looking for a good Asian Fantasy and/or good action-oriented fantasy. Fans of Mulan. This is way better than Eon by Alison Goodman, imo.

****4/5 STARS

Thanks so much to Megan Crewe, Another World Press, The Fantastic Flying Book Club & Netgalley for my arc of A Mortal Song!



Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

Megan’s first novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST, was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her second, THE WAY WE FALL, was nominated for the White Pine Award and made the International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choices List. Her Fallen World trilogy (THE WAY WE FALL, THE LIVES WE LOST, THE WORLDS WE MAKE) is now complete and she has a new trilogy forthcoming in October 2014, beginning with EARTH & SKY. Her books have been published in translation in several countries around the world. She has also published short stories in magazines such as On Spec and Brutarian Quarterly.

Contact Megan online at these places: WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookTumblr & Instagram

 FFBC.pngYou can click here to follow the tour!


Includes all of the following Japanese media and treats (all books in English translation and all DVDs with English subtitles):

BooksMoribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi and Death Note Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba

Anime series (DVD, complete collections): Cowboy Bebop and Princess Tutu

Anime movies (DVD): Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke

Live action movies (DVD): Battle Royale and Hana and Alice

3-month Japanese snack box subscription: WOWBOX (your choice of type)

Click to enter A MORTAL SONG Japan Extravaganza Giveaway!


“Snow and ice, miles and miles of treacherous wilderness…Let’s be honest—it’s not the scenery that has every citizen in the Spire clamoring to see the Continent. It’s the war.”

Premise :

Vaela Sun is going to the Continent. Citizens of the Spire, a peaceful federation of nations, rarely get a chance to visit the mysterious Continent, but it is the focus of much curiosity and speculation, for it is home to a curious anachronism of the past: warfare. On the Continent, two “uncivilized” societies engage in bloody battle, and Spirians are drawn to witness the barbaric pageantry.

“Living in the Spire is like looking at the world from behind a veil—we don’t have a true sense of what things are like. Not really. I just want to see something real.”

Soon, Vaela and her parents set off on the tour and find themselves marveling both at the landscapes and the foreign spectacle of the savages at war. But Vaela is wholly unprepared for the tragedy that brings her face-to-face with the violence of genocide. YA Alternative History/F/SF. Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Harlequin TEEN.


No book is perfect, but this one comes pretty close to “genre perfect.” Crossover appeal will be limited by a few elements, but the book will find many eager readers among the YA, Alternative History and Fantasy crowds. I suspect fans of Veronica Rossi’s wonderful Under the Never Sky trilogy will love The Continent.

The universe quickly establishes itself as a sort of “alternative Victorian.” No magic, no monsters and no huge tech changes (except, perhaps, a heavier reliance on steam than on other sources of energy). There are two main changes: (1) the worldwide peace treaties that boast 300 years of success (excluding the Continent, of course) and (2) the general land formations and their ethnic distributions.

What I Liked :

(1) The storyline is perfectly set up and paced. Literally, by 5%, Vaela is climbing on board a “heli-plane” for her tour, and before long, she’s mapping the Continent from aerial views, feeling horribly transfixed by the violence and tramping around on the actual terrain.

During this period of further setup, readers spend a lot of time with Vaela’s very Victorian sensibilities and her rapturously loving and proud parents, and nothing terribly exciting happens. This will irritate some readers; but I was never bored, even during quiet periods of setup and recovery, because I knew Vaela’s happy, naïve existence would not last. Drake foreshadows the tragedy in store for this rich Victorian heiress, so I knew her happiness was temporary.

And when the tragedy comes, at exactly 20%, it’s just as shocking as if I hadn’t been expecting it. Certain details enliven the setup and the twist and make it far more engrossing than it would have otherwise been. [Highlight to read spoiler: I was so shocked when Aaden took the escape pod!!!!!!] It begins to highlight the theme of the work—that savagery and nobility can be found in any society.

(2) I was engrossed in Vaela’s point of view and character arc, as she matured and interacted with other characters throughout the book; I love how she overcomes the Victorian attitude that exertion is unladylike. She becomes a much more confident, capable woman.

“’You would stay Noro’s hand in defense of a man who knowingly slanders your honor?’ ‘Oh, honestly, you Aven’ei!’ I say. ‘My honor is intact, whether Shoshi slanders it or not. I don’t need his good opinion to know myself.’”

(3) It surprised me to find that the warring tribes of the Continent were of an Asian-like culture, and I enjoyed the Asian-flavored details, like the dance of manners and the languages.

You May Not Like This Book If… :

Readers of fantasy and historical fiction might find a moving read in The Continent, depending on what they’re looking for. The main reason I say “crossover appeal will be limited” has to do with the 300 years of world peace. How did it happen? The Continent never really explains the history of the treaty. The book gives most of its attention to the characters and their reactions to seeing, experiencing and coping with violence for the first time, instead of developing the worldbuilding history. As with many novels, good writing can help suspend disbelief, and I was hooked once the story took off toward the Continent; but some readers will not be satisfied with this.

In addition, readers who require complicated, well-detailed milieus may be disappointed, as the book focuses much more on humanity than on how the world itself works. For example, the solution to the war, in this book, makes war seem overly simple. Also, the world displays an utter lack of religious development. Nobody swears or prays or does anything remotely religious (or irreligious), during the whole book, even before going to war and even though Asian cultures often have strong religious components; it’s as if the book is sanitized from anything controversial. Perhaps the insinuation is that religion has been eradicated right along with war; but in that case, at least one of the warring tribes would be religious, wouldn’t it?

Finally, I would not recommend this book to readers who value a tactically complex plot or riveting action over emotionally complex work. They might find this book rather boring. There are few battle scenes and no quick-thinking, clever plot fixes.

Recommendations :

If you like YA, READ THIS BOOK. I recommend it, in fact, to anyone who enjoys emotional complexity, even at the expense of plot complexity. Vaela is a fabulous heroine finding her way in a world that has suddenly thrown her the king of curveballs. I love every word of her journey and I can’t wait to try the audio version!

4.5/5 STARS

Thanks you so, so much to Keira Drake, Harlequin TEEN & Netgalley for my review copy of The Continent.


Update 11/12/2016- On the recent controversy criticizing this book as “racist”: My original thoughts still stand. Portraying racism does not make a book racist (see Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Earnest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying), especially when the point of the book is about overcoming cultural assumptions and superiority. Young people need books that help them understand racism; shielding them from racist thought does absolutely no good.

The Continent is no Huckleberry Finn, but I think it’s an important pop culture read for teen girls. The heroine’s inner journey repudiates the racism portrayed earlier in the book. Please consider reading the book before you make judgments about the content.

Update 11/16/16- For those who are saying the “white savior” trope makes this book racist, I don’t buy it. If Vaela were any color but white, no one would be complaining about her saving the world. I’m all for multicultural heroines, but that includes white heroines as well.

My personal reviewing policy is to give credit where credit is due and to be honest about a book’s weaknesses. Therefore: This book uses the “teen girl saves the world” trope, which is among the most common in YA; that is part of why I took away a half star–it’s unoriginal and unrealistic. It makes the war plot seem overly simplistic. But that’s a relatively small fault for a beautiful character-driven allegory.

The reviewer outcry against this book frustrates me. Many reviewers just seem to be shaming this author because it’s popular and easy to do.

*Update 5/11/17: Thanks to clearer heads and the rise of more coherent, helpful discussion from authors and others, I finally understand why the original ARC of The Continent frustrated readers:

In The Continent, two cultures are at war with each other for reasons of genocide or material gain. (Wars have been fought on these bases, of course, but it’s certainly unflattering for the cultures described in The Continent.) Although this is a fantasy book world with allegedly fantastic races of humanity, these two warring civilizations closely resemble colonial Native American and medieval Japanese cultures in certain descriptions. The other main culture in the book (there are lots of cultures, but only three are directly involved in this novel’s plot) is a white Victorian England-ish culture, and it has somehow inexplicably made peace with all other nations except these two warring nations, who refuse to participate in the alliance with the other multi-colored nations.

Put as such, I can see why readers may feel the the skin color distribution unintentionally implies white racial superiority. I’m grateful to those who took pains to explain this carefully, instead of jumping on the bully-train and muddying the waters without actually bothering to understand the issue.

I personally still think the outrage is over-the-top because the author is clearly not a racist, but we’re all allowed our opinions.

Bookshelf roundups” are just what they sound like: they “roundup” my latest reviews and upcoming reviews.

Recent Reviews

Yo readers! I’ve been reading a TON of YA, this month. Here’s the roundup, thus far:

First up was The Children of Icarus, a YA Fantasy by young author Caighlan Smith.

Children of Icarus

Kiersten White’s fabulous Alt Historical YA, And I Darken, was next:

My favorite of the bunch was a crossover fantasy from the 1980s: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.


I’m always looking for fantasies like this book, so I welcome your suggestions! This was a five-star, for me.

My latest review was of a new serial YA Dystopian called “ReMade,” put out by Serial Box Publishing.


Multiple authors, including the author And I Darken, Kiersten White, will contribute to this serial; episode one, authored by Matthew Cody, will be released on Sept 14th, 2016.

Upcoming Reviews

But in the next two weeks, I’ll be reviewing a couple of adult picks, in addition to an upcoming YA:

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond, a 1979 middle-eastern-flavored Fantasy that was recently republished as an ebook.

The Golden Torc by Julian May, book 2 of The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, an adult sci-fi published in the 1980s and republished by Tor in 2013.

Aaaaaand Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a Latin-flavored YA Fantasy which will be published Sept 6th by Sourcebooks Fire. [Review now available!]

Labyrinth Lost.jpg

Isn’t that cover creepy!?

What have you been reading lately? What are you planning to read next? I do hope you’ll link your next “bookshelf roundup” to this post so I can see what you’re reading, too!


If I were marketing a new edition of this book (*hint hint, publishers*), I would only half-jokingly market it as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park meets Alanna The Lioness: The First Adventure.

Premise :

Harry Crewe, an orphan, lives on the charity of an upper-class Homelander family in the desert country of Damar. But when the king of a native, magical Hillfolk population senses with his “kelar” magic that Harry will be important to his people, he spirits her away to his desert tribe.

Harry soon exceeds the Hillfolk king’s expectations by developing a military skill that marks her a symbol of hope for the downtrodden Hillfolk. To them, she becomes known as “Harimad-sol,” a legend in the making, and among them she finds purpose she never found among the Homelanders. When the King declares her a king’s rider and gifts her with the legendary blue sword of Lady Aerin, Harry carries it to war for her adopted country.

High Fantasy, first published 1982, winner of Newbery Honor (1983), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1988) & Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (1984).

My library has copies of The Blue Sword in both the children’s section and the adult sf/f section; but if this book were published today, it would probably be marketed as YA, even though it doesn’t feel like modern YA (kind of like Sabriel by Garth Nix doesn’t feel quite like YA). It would also probably have more romance and less of a European feel.

As is, it appeals as much to adult-me as I think it would have to teenaged-me.

The Plot :

The first few chapters start slowly, but the writing is so lovely, I didn’t mind a bit. The plot fits nicely within the Hero’s Journey/Quest plot, except that it’s about a girl, instead of a guy. I love the “training” portions of the novel, since those often get skipped, in modern YA Fantasies.

The Worldbuilding :

The worldbuilding is a delightful mix of Victorian English, almost-American-western and middle eastern societies, as impossible as that sounds. The Homelanders have civil servants, rickety trains and fabulously fresh orange juice, and they spend their time hosting fancy dinners with the militia to find eligible mates for their daughters. Meanwhile the conquered Hillfolk, a clan-like desert people, live in the real world where wars and magic and concerns over a dwindling population take precedence.

It’s quite a fun world.

The subtle “kelar” magic reminds me of The Lord of the Rings. Nobody knows how the magic works, exactly; it just does. It appears to be more of an uncontrollable, fates-driven thing than an ability.

The Characters :

There’s so much to love about Harry Crewe. She’s my very favorite kind of protagonist—one who is complex and compelling, but also very good. She’s a heroine not just because she’s skilled, capable and loyal, but because she has a mind of her own and accepts responsibility for her own choices without complaint. She doesn’t expect the world to be fair; she just does her best to make it better.

She reminds me so, so much of Keladry in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series.

Modern heroes and heroines are often flawed, but Harry proves that “good” doesn’t have to mean “simple,” “boring” or “formulaic,” just as “flawed” doesn’t always mean “complex.”

The Style :

The Blue Sword deemphasizes voice in favor of worldbuilding, a technique I love. McKinley’s unaffected, genteel and lightly humorous third person objective narration is, I think, more difficult than the more far more common and subjective “third person limited” and “first person” narratives that populate YA today. A lot of older Fantasies seem more adept at this technique; perhaps the style was more popular, then.

Recommendation :

The Blue Sword won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend this book for fans of Tamora Pierce, Rosemary Sutcliff and Cinda Williams Chima. (Also, possibly fans of Sherwood Smith. I haven’t tried her, yet, but she sounds promising.) Anyone who just wants a good story.

I’m already rereading it and enjoying the lush worldbuilding all over again. It’s no wonder Robin McKinley’s books have survived and thrived decades after they were written.

Do you know any great books like this one? If you have any recommendations for me, please tell me in the comments!

“The Great Network is an ancient web of routes and gates, where sentient trains can take you anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye.”


A drone follows Zen Starling to his home world, after the young thief steals a necklace from a goldsmith’s shop. Everyone assumes Zen is just getting what he’s always deserved. But no one, including Zen himself, expects him to take up with an intergalactic criminal, steal a mysterious, prized object from the emperor’s own sentient train and unveil the truth about The Great Network. YA Sci-Fi, 2015. Philip Reeve is also the author of the The Hungry City Chronicles, which won several honors for teen fiction.

What I Liked:

(1) Railhead’s worldbuilding is much more layered and complex than much YA fare I’ve read. Its short, lyrical explanations suspend disbelief, cover whole galaxies and invent a fluent, unique Railhead vocabulary. It’s all very nonchalant—no infodumps stall the action. This sci-fi reads like wonder-filled fantasy, not like a physics textbook.

(2) The writing itself is decent—it tells the story well, with occasional flairs of poignance or humor. Philip Reeve is a true writer, not just an excellent storyteller. He portrays each world with quick, but keen details and in such a personal way (to Zen) that the reader feels like they know it, too:

“Zen’s home town was a sheer-sided ditch of a place. Cleave’s houses and factories were packed like shelved crates up each wall of a mile-deep canyon on a one-gate world called Angat whose surface was scoured by constant storms…Between the steep-stacked buildings, a thousand waterfalls went foaming down to join the river far below, adding their own roar to the various dins from the industrial zone. The local name for Cleave was Thunder City.

(3) It is morally and emotionally complex. Zen isn’t just a “good kid” from “the wrong side of the tracks.” He enjoys thieving, as a way of life, and the ultimate heist plot appeals to him even before he finds out that Raven, his new boss and author of the heist, may have purer motives than everyone assumes. Raven himself is a very complex character who certainly agrees that the end may justify any means. But the book doesn’t attempt to judge anyone’s behavior—it simply shows the results of their choices. Raven suffers every imaginable agony, due to his lifestyle, and Zen’s actions bring consequences that both touch the reader and awaken Zen to questions of right and wrong. It’s a very realistic awakening, and I think the reader is certain to feel it, as I did.

(4) It explores concepts like gender and artificial intelligence in subtle ways that are perfect for a teen readership. There’s no preaching or titillation, here.

Minor Complaints:

My complaints are minor, overall. (1) Although the story interested me intellectually from the very beginning (the worldbuilding immediately fascinated me), it didn’t engage my emotions until around ch. 19 (out of 50), when Zen starts to feel conflicted; and the plot didn’t have me racing through the pages until the end of ch. 20, when the danger finally makes the leap from theoretical to physical. (2) The characters aren’t particularly intriguing. There’s no voice, little personality and less rumination. Thankfully, the many settings—and the trains—are satisfying characters.


I think most readers would enjoy this quiet, thoughtful adventure, and I would recommend it much more highly than, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, a highly-lauded and much less enjoyable YA sci-fi of several years back. I know the cover attracts grown men because one snatched the book up before I got a chance to read it, and I caught another staring at it, where it lay on my circulation desk at the library! I think any fan of speculative fiction would find a treat in this quick read. I will definitely be reading more Philip Reeve.

****4/5 STARS

Premise: Han Alister, a reformed street thief, and Princess Raisa ana’Marianna, Heir to the Fells, each struggle to deal with problems in their respective social circles. Han works hard to care for his family without the extra income of thieving; Raisa determinedly battles her advisers just to maintain a shred of her own identity. But when the High Wizard of the Fells hatches a plot to seize power from the Queendom, both teens are thrust into trouble that ranges far beyond themselves and their families.

I devoured The Demon King like I devoured Tamora Pierce’s fantasies when I was a teenager. I love sinking into an absorbing fantasy like this one.

What It’s Not: The Demon King won’t be everyone’s favorite style—the plots twists aren’t SO COMPELLING that you HAVE TO READ ON, like in The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner; there’s no dreamy quality to the romantic tension, like in Twilight; the voice isn’t particularly strong voice or laugh-out-loud humorous, like in works by Maggie Stiefvater; and although I liked Raisa, she doesn’t get many real adventures, like those enjoyed by Tamora Pierce’s lady knights and mages, or Lindsay Buroker’s heroines.

But even though the book doesn’t check every box for me, I’m still giving it five stars. It’s an unselfconscious, promising start to a YA High Fantasy series—it sets up a complex world with thoughtful, sensory-oriented prose and it manages to avoid the usual YA romantic pitfalls.

Things I Liked: (1) The strong setting and sensory details immediately drew me into the story. The writing is exact, descriptive and jam-packed with detail. (2) The worldbuilding is my favorite thing—it’s very well developed and layered in. No infodumps. And there are THREE OTHER BOOKS (!!! Yay!) in this series, which should further explore the politics, history and religion of the seven kingdoms. That’s half the fun of this book—knowing that it’s a great start to a four book high fantasy series. (3) There are some lovely character moments—fights, character immaturity, realistic questions about identity, etc. For example, “She was always eager to bring any argument to a close as quickly as possible, even if it meant throwing a bandage over a boil” (26). Good stuff. Also, the characters are very aware of their own stations and the station-specific problems they must overcome. And finally, romantic tensions don’t take over the story, as they do so often in YA. The characters juggle multiple infatuations, and I think that’s really healthy and realistic for a teen novel. No instalove thx.

Other Stuff: The only real complaint I have is that Han just kind of…mopes around…for much of the second half. It’s a little annoying. I wish his arc could have moved faster.

Recommendation: I think this book probably appeals to girls more than to boys, mostly because the action is slow and thoughtful, as opposed to quick and pulse-pounding—but some boys will probably like it.

Overall: This is definitely my favorite YA since I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s Frontier Wolf last summer. I hope further books will develop in psychological and moral complexity, although that would exceed my expectations. I do, however, fully expect the worldbuilding to grow more complex, and that’s really why I’m going to continue reading. (I already have book II in hand! Yippee!!) I enjoyed the sensory experience, and as long as the seven kingdoms continue to offer interesting conflicts, I will continue reading this series.

*****5/5 STARS

About: On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew siblings discover an ancient treasure map. But as they decipher the clues, they find  that they aren’t the only ones looking for King Arthur’s treasure… Classic Children’s Fantasy. First in The Dark is Rising sequence. Published 1965.

A gripping tale for child and young adult alike. I wish I had read this when I was younger because I would have loved it then. (As it was, still made for great bedtime reading!) It will appeal quite a bit to young fans of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Seriously, doesn’t every kid dream of finding an ancient treasure?

What I Liked: (1) The book has an “old-fashioned” period charm that feels nostalgic, today, similar to what can be found in some of Madeleine L’Engle’s and Elizabeth Enright’s books. It’s really a treat. I mean, the parents are together, the siblings apologize to each other (occasionally), etc. Every kid can use a comforting book like that, I think, to glimpse the past and view their own time through a new lens. (2) And it’s just that innocence that makes the tale so gripping: not every adult is trustworthy, in this book, even though the rule of the day says that they should be.

Other Notes: Someone mentioned that this book has some Christian mythology thrown in. To which I say, “Read book II and you’ll retract that statement.” Not that books I & II (the only two I’ve read, thus far) are anti-Christian—they are respectful toward the church. But their mythology, from what I can tell, is more what I would hesitantly label as “dualism”: two equal, “uncreated, antagonistic Powers, one good and the other bad” in which there is not “right” or “wrong,” but only “light” and “dark,” so pick a side. (The description of dualism is from page 4 of C. S. Lewis’s God in the Dock.) Even though the author harkens to the noble king Arthur of Christendom, this epic fight between good and evil dates back to a more pagan struggle. However, I do basically adore the good vs. evil theme in epic fantasies, whether the portrayal is “Christian” or not, and it is definitely one of the things I enjoyed about the first two books. I love to explore an author’s take on this theme.

Audiobook: Very good. I enjoyed both the audio and physical editions.

****4/5 Stars

2nd Australian Edition2006 Puffin Books

Premise: Alongside the other orphans raised in the household of their charitable Baron, Will discovers his place in the world: training to become a king’s Ranger.

About: Children’s high fantasy, 2004. I picked this up because the series has reached, I don’t know, book #24? (*I just checked: it is now finished, at book 12.*) Anyway, I figured it was time to join the crowd, and I’m relatively pleased that I did so.

What I Liked: (1) The main thing I like about this series is the decently-developed protagonist—Will. We won’t mind discovering the colorful world of the series through his eyes. (2) And that’s the second thing I really like about this series—I’m excited to see the worldbuilding expand with each book. (3) Because the book focuses so much on Will’s character and future occupation, we can also expect to enjoy further adventures from his perspective. (4) The plot moves right along, even though it isn’t very original. (It’s the hero’s journey.) (5) The tension inherent in Will’s desire line (he wishes, above all, to honor his heroic father’s memory) sufficiently entices readers along without resorting to eye-rolling constructs such as, “If you don’t pass your Faction testing, you’re an outcast FOREVER!!!!!!” in order to elevate the tension. The tensions feel like legitimate concerns and stakes for a fifteen year old boy living in medieval times: Will doesn’t want to fail out of the exciting careers and be forced into a lifetime of farming. He doesn’t want to shame the name of his heroic father. (Highlight to read SPOILER: I also really like how this comes full circle, in that his father was not a glorious knight, but simply a brave fighter in the army.)

Other Observations:

-Character: My favorite part was the evolution of Horace’s character. (Highlight to read SPOILER: Horace was a bully until, later in the book, he experienced bullying himself and it changed him completely—for the better.) I also enjoyed the rivalry between Will and Horace—it was done really well (Highlight to read SPOILER: I liked the rivalry right up until they stopped hating each other’s guts. The “make up” scene was rather silly. Horace should have had more of a role to play. But the epic fight against Horace’s bullies completely made up for that.) I tend to be a character-driven reader, so of course I wanted more characterization, but I’m sure Flanagan was trying to keep this novel relatively short and there wasn’t a lot of room for pure characterization. I guess that’s what the next books are for, right? (*pleasepleaseplease*)

-Worldbuilding: It’s decent, thus far. It feels like medieval times, although there aren’t a whole lot of setting details that paint the medieval lifestyle, like there are in some high fantasies (such as, say, The Protector of the Small quartet, which portrays everything you could think of about becoming a knight in a medieval castle).

The One Thing I Didn’t Like: (Highlight to read SPOILER: That kiss at the end was silly. We hardly heard two words from Alyss the whole story, and suddenly she’s kissing Will? Meh. Silly.

Overall: Nothing super original, but I’m excited to see where the series goes, nonetheless. That’s really what I’m here for—a great high Fantasy series to keep returning to. I’m excited to see where Flanagan goes with the character-development and world-building.

Recommendation: I recommend this book to pathological readers of children’s fantasy or to children in general. It’s never too early to jumpstart an enduring love of fantasy, and I think MG readers can and do eat this first novel up.

I’m definitely reading the next in the series. I think I may be in it for the long haul!

***3/5 stars