A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow

A Comb of Wishes

Information

Goodreads: A Comb of Wishes
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2022

Summary

Kela is mourning the death of her mother when she discovers a box holding a beautiful comb. The comb, it turns out, belongs to a sea woman–and she would do just about anything to get it back. So she offers Kela a trade: a wish for the comb. But wishes never turn out quite the way one thinks….

Star Divider

Review

A Comb of Wishes invites readers on a magical story rich in the atmosphere, history, and folklore of the Caribbean. Kela is trying to deal with the loss of her mother, mostly by ignoring her father and her best friend Lissy. But she still wanders the beach looking for sea glass, trying to complete the collection she and her mom started. Instead she finds an ancient comb that belongs to one of the sea folk–and she agrees to give it back in exchange for the return of her mother. When Kela breaks the bargain, however, the mermaid threatens revenge. Fast-paced action; plenty of fascinating information about the beaches of St. Rita; and, of course, mermaids mean this book will likely appeal to tween readers, even though I found myself a bit perplexed by some of the plot points.

For me, the strongest part of the book is the information given about St. Rita and the ecological concerns Kela and her father feel for their home. The story overflows with evident love for St. Rita, as Kela explains the different rules that guide her in searching the beaches for treasure. For instance, she does not collect shells because that would negatively impact the environment, but she can collect sea glass (which comes from glass products weathered by the ocean). She also explains the different laws about finding treasures in different parts St. Rita, how to report any finds, and so forth. All of this really made Kela’s home come alive, while showing just how important it is to her to keep her home safe and beautiful.

The folklore in A Comb of Wishes is also fascinating. I love books where the fantastic is also shown to be dangerous, so I loved the allure Kela and her mother felt for the sea folk, while they also acknowledged that the sea folk are dangerous. Kela, of course, discovers this firsthand when she makes and breaks a bargain with a mermaid named Ophidia, who then stalks Kela in an attempt to scare her to return her comb. The dual aspects of the sea folk, however, ultimately got a bit confusing, and, for me, the ending is where the book fell apart. The book tries a bit too hard to humanize the sea folk and make them sympathetic, which ultimately both makes them seem less magical.

[Major spoilers about the ending in this paragraph!] A major part of the book is the lore that sea folk must steal a human soul in order to gain immortality, and readers learn that Ophidia steals the soul of a human who betrayed her. One assumes, naturally, that having one’s soul stolen is very, very bad–Ophidia has resisted the impulse before out of pity and only does it as a vengeful punishment. Yet, by the end of the book, Kela and her mother have discovered that Ophidia has stolen the soul of one of their ancestors and that it’s in the comb. One might assume that they would want to keep the comb to try to release their ancestor’s soul, or…something. Instead, they now feel a kinship with Ophidia because she has a family member’s soul, and they are all respectful of each other and even friends! Sorry, what? Did I miss something? Everyone is now supposed to like the scary mermaid who steals souls and tried to kill a child for an entire book?? I know mermaids are cool right now, but I thought the point of this book is that non-human magic folk are unknowable and dangerous. Not your awesome new BFF. The ending effectively undoes most of the book, turning this from a scary folkloric book into a child-friendly, “Mermaids are fun and sparkly!” book, and I do not really know why. [End spoilers!]

I realize, however, that my desire for logic in books is not always shared, and that tween readers are likely to overlook any contradictions in the plot. For those who do not mind some inconsistency in worldbuilding and messaging, A Comb of Wishes will prove an engrossing read.

3 Stars

The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

Unicorn Quest cover

Information

Goodreads: The Unicorn Quest
Series: The Unicorn Quest #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Little Free Library
Published: 2018

Official Summary

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor… until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other. The beloved unicorns have gone, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

Star Divider

Review

I’ve had The Unicorn Quest on my TBR list for years, and Krysta’s positive review and the rave reviews on Goodreads had me convinced I would love this. After all, it’s a story about sisters in a fantasy world with unicorns! (Well, there used to be unicorns.) Unfortunately, poor pacing and writing let me down, and I didn’t love this nearly as much as I’d hoped.

This is likely a case where younger readers will not mind the issues that I mind, but I thought the book was really choppily written. It’s one of those novels where something happens and as soon as it’s resolved, some other problem pops up. Literally in the next sentence. Imagine a scene (I’m making this up), where a character is drowning, and as soon as someone saves her a sea monster pops up, as a soon as the sea monster is defeated, the boat falls apart. And it goes on. I could have used a little more space in between each problem the protagonists faced.

I also thought the writing was underwhelming, a bit cliché and awkward at times. Again, I don’t think actual ten year olds will care.

I liked the sister relationship, but this is yet another book where the sisters barely interact with each other during the course of the novel, and readers have to assume a lot about their relationship from what the protagonist says about it while the other sister is off-page somewhere.

So, no, I won’t be reading the rest of the series, but it seems to be doing well, so I’m probably an outlier here.

Briana

Wingbearer by Marjorie M. Liu

Wingbearer

Information

GoodreadsWingbearer
Series: Wingbearer #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Zuli was raised in the Great Tree by mystical birds who oversee the reincarnation of the birds from across the world. But one day, the spirits of the birds stop travelling to the Tree to be reborn. Determined to find the cause, Zuli, along with her guardian owl Frowly, leaves the Tree for the first time. Her quest will lead her to many strange places. But her greatest adventure might be discovering her own past.

Star Divider

Review

Wingbearer invites readers on a magical adventure full of danger and mystery. While the plotline does not feel entirely original, and the elements of the quest will be familiar to any lovers of history, tween readers likely will not mind. The fast-paced action and vibrant illustrations will likely be enough to make the target audience fall in love with the courageous protagonist and her world.

Reviewing books meant for younger audiences often proves a struggle. While I firmly believe that a good story is a good story, no matter whom it was written for, I also recognize that I tend to be more critical of books than many of the children I know. I have seen the quest story play out many, many times and it is much easier for me to predict what will happen next, and much harder to impress me. Thus, while I think Wingbearer is a solid story, and an entertaining one, I do not feel like it rises to greatness; it just seems so standard. Yet, I also know I would not hesitate to recommend it to any tweens who love fantasy graphic novels.

I also struggled a bit with the artwork. On the one hand, I really loved it. The colors are vibrant, the worlds beautifully drawn, and the creatures magnificent. The demon monster is truly terrifying, and the dragon breathtaking. On the other hand, the illustrations have some sort of quality about them that makes them feel a bit like computer animations to me. I think I was hoping for something that felt a little more organic or intimate. I enjoyed the illustrations, but again, I do not know if I really connected to them in a way that made me think, “Wow!”

So should you pick this up? If you love middle grade graphic novels, especially fantasy ones, yes. It is worth the read! The characters are lovable, the plot engaging, and the worlds magical. I was drawn in by the mystery and am willing to read the sequel. Wingbearer might not have blown me away, but not every book needs to. It is still a fun read!

4 stars

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

The Patron Thief of Bread Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsThe Patron Thief of Bread
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: May 2022

Summary

Eight-year-old Duck was fished by the river as a baby. Now she forms part of the Crowns, a crew of pickpockets who move from town to town. But their leader Gnat has a new plan. They will settle in Odierne and install Duck as a fake apprentice to a baker. From the bakery, she can more easily pass bread and money to the Crowns. But soon Duck starts to care for Griselde, and to wonder where she really belongs. Interspersed periodically with chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle, made to watch and protect.

Star Divider

Review

I will be among the first to admit it. I do not understand the hype surrounding The Patron Thief of Bread. Books about crews of child thieves who earn their living as pickpockets are plentiful enough, as is the idea that growing up often means moving on–to an honest day’s work and relationships that are built on more than usefulness. The Patron Thief of Bread tries to stand out by offering occasional chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle rather than the orphan thief Duck. But these seem out of place and unnecessary. On the whole, The Patron Thief of Bread is a solid book, one I enjoyed–but one that seems not only uninspired but also a bit too long and too reflective for its target audience. I see this book as a potential award winner, one beloved by adults, but I have trouble imagining a child I would recommend it to.

I have read enough children’s books that the concept of a crew of child pickpockets needs a little something more to seem exciting to me. It is this feeling that I imagine must form the basis of including chapters from the perspective of a gargoyle. Duck’s chapters, you see, the one’s following an orphan thief selected to masquerade as a baker’s apprentice so she can more easily steal bigger change, are interrupted periodically by those of the gargoyle. Duck’s chapters focus on the concept of family and what it means to belong–she must decide if her crew are still her family, or if they are only using her as a tool. Or if Griselde the baker could be her family, too. The gargoyle’s chapters focus mainly on his feelings of impotence being attached to an incomplete cathedral that the ravages of time have worn down. Unable to protect–with nothing to protect–he rages at everything and spends his time alternately mocking the other gargoyles or substituting lewd lyrics to the hymns the nuns sing below. What the gargoyle and his feelings of inadequacy have to do with Duck and her feelings about family is not really clear. It just seems like they are there to be interesting, to be unique. “What other book has chapters from the point of view of a gargoyle?” one might say, impressively. In short, the gargoyle chapters seem out of place and add little to the book or its overall themes.

The gargoyle chapters also add length to a book that is arguably already a bit too long, coming in at 448 pages. Plenty of children adore long books, yes, but the pacing of this one is slow and the themes are redundant. Duck spends most of the book reflecting on whether she still belongs in the crew, or if they are just using her to get food, while also acting like she is an outsider who left them and no longer belongs. Like most problems, Duck’s could be solved by talking them out with her master the baker Griselde, who loves Duck like her own child and refuses to see any wrong in her. But, of course, that would make less of a story, so we get hundreds of pages of Duck worrying instead, with the climatic scenes coming in only when about 80% of the story has been told. The pacing feels off–too slow and then too fast, with everything needing to go wrong and then get fixed in the final pages.

In the end, I really see this as the type of book adults in particular would enjoy. It’s just so unique with its gargoyle chapters and so sweet and deep with its look at the definition of family, right? I myself enjoyed the book, though I cannot say I want to rave about it. It is a solid story, one with interesting characters and an interesting premise. I just do not see it doing anything particularly new or thought-provoking. And I really am interested if this is a book tweens would enjoy, or if it the grown-ups who see all the meaning in it.

3 Stars

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux

Cat's Cradle

Information

Goodreads: Cat’s Cradle
Series: Cat’s Cradle #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2012, 2022

Summary

Suri is a street orphan who longs to be a monster hunter. What luck then that a heartless man drives up one day with a monster inside his wagon! This is the start of an adventure that just might take Suri to the place where all monsters cross to enter her country.

Star Divider

Review

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine seems just the type of middle grade fantasy to appeal to a large audience, so I am unsure why the book, first published in 2012, apparently was never followed by the intended sequels. The book opens with the orphan Suri who lives in a traveling caravan and tells visitors tales of monsters–for a fee. Her true longing, however, is to be a monster hunter. And her opportunity comes when a strange man joins the caravan with one in his wagon. This, along with a chance encounter with a family of monsters who can take on the forms of humans, begins Suri’s adventures. Adventures that are sadly cut short when the book abruptly ends.

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine is one of those books that really just exists to set the stage for the following books. Readers receive an introduction to our spunky heroine Suri, learn that she lives in a country where monsters invade from across the mountains, and watch Suri fall afoul of a family of monsters and set herself up for a future encounter with the prince–who is a bit of a monster hunter himself. Characters are hastily drawn and the worldbuilding is sketchy. But none of that is supposed to matter, as long as readers get the gist of it. The true adventure will start later, when the mystery of the golden twine is revealed.

Unfortunately, however, as of my reading, book two of the series was never published. I tried to ascertain if the republishing of book one is meant to herald a new attempt to get readers for the series and justify publishing the rest of the series. But I could find no mention of book two online. So, while the book is just the type of thing I would want to recommend to tween lovers of fantasy, I feel awkward doing so as long as it seems readers will not be able to finish the story. Hopefully, things will change and we will receive news of book two. If you have any, feel free to share in the comments!

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine is a story I know I would have loved as a tween, and I was excited to enter its world of magic and adventure. I just wish I knew if there will be more magic in the future.

3 Stars

Sorceline by Sylvia Douyé, Illustrated by Paola Antista

Sorceline

Information

GoodreadsSorceline
Series: Sorceline #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2018, 2022

Summary

Sorceline arrives at Professor Archibald Balzar’s school of cryptozoology determined to prove herself and earn a spot as one of the professor’s apprentices. Soon, however, students start disappearing. To solve the mystery, Sorceline will have to delve into her own past and uncover her own secrets.

Star Divider

Review

Sorceline drew me in first with the promise of a magical world filled with fantastic creatures, and then once again when I saw how beautiful the illustrations are. However, even though I loved learning about all the wonders of Sorceline’s world, I found the plot to be disjointed and the characters lacking complexity and depth. I imagine the target audience will love this title a lot because of the magic. Personally, though, I was hoping for more cohesion in the narrative.

The premise of the story is absolutely wondrous; Sorceline travels to an island full of creatures that would seem to exist only in fantasy or in myth. But they are real, and she possesses a remarkable ability to identify them. Indeed, she seems destined to be top of her class, if only the resident mean girl would stop stealing her answers to impress the professor. Then, the students begin disappearing–or, more accurately, transforming into glass. Sorceline and her friends must work together to solve the mystery, while still fulfilling their duties as caretakers and healers of magical creatures. The only problem? Gaps in the plot.

At several points during the story, I had to pause and think back because it seemed as if I had missed something. Assumptions were being made by characters, theories advanced, and actions taken that did not make sense to me and that did not seem connected to anything that happened before. Initially, I thought the mistake must have been mine and that I had been reading too fast. Eventually, however, I realized that the gaps in the plot were a feature of the book itself.

The characterization also is lacking a bit. The characters seem to be built around types, such as the mean girl, her best friend who enables her, the Goth loner, the best friend who supports Sorceline, etc. Their backgrounds and motivations, however, are not really explored, and their relationships lack complexity. Mostly the characters seem around to be the catalyst for drama, whether that means school rivalies, best friend fights, or something more sinister.

Sorceline enchants with its premise and, most of all, its gorgeous illustrations. The plot does lack cohesion, however, and the characters, at least in this installment, do not yet seem full developed. Still, I think tweens will enjoy the book and I have hope that the sequel may improve.

3 Stars

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic by Cameron Chittock & Amanda Castillo

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic

Information

GoodreadsMapmakers and the Lost Magic
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Alidade is tired of living in a small village ruled over by the cruel Night Coats, who prevent anyone from leaving. Running into the forest, she discovers a secret treehouse where a group of Mapmakers once worked to protect the Valley. Now, if Alidade wants to free her home from the Night Coats, she will have to take up the ancient art of mapmaking.

Star Divider

Review

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic possesses an intriguing premise, but ultimately proves a lackluster story that relies on tired tropes and does nothing original with them. Alidade lives in a valley ruled by the Night Coats, a group of guards whose sole duty seems to put down the locals and make them dig dirt in a pit (for unknown reasons). Alidade longs for more, however. She longs for travel. And, so, after running away yet again, she stumbles upon a magic treehouse and learns that the valley was once free, and once guarded by the Mapmakers and their magical companions–now lost to time. Alidade has to unite the villagers to stand against the Night Coats and reclaim their land. It all sounds good. It just…feels really boring in practice.

The concept of a village that lives isolated from the rest of society and is oppressed by outsiders is nothing new. To stand out, Mapmakers and the Lost Magic really had to do something different, whether that meant creating especially lovable characters or providing a plot twist on the old tale. It does not. Alidade is a one-dimensional character whose sole point of interest is that she seems to be the only villager who has ever thought of leaving. Her friend is the standard homebody who distrusts adventure, but is loyal to Alidade. The plot is standard and predictable. Even the art does not make the story feel more magical.

I really wanted to see more depth in Mapmakers and the Lost Magic. I wanted to know more about the Night Coats, who they are, how they came to power, and what they are even doing bothering to police a small village of people who are not even interested in rebelling. What is their overall goal? Are they hiding something bigger? Is someone in the capital leading them in their nefarious deeds–whatever those are? I have no idea. The Night Coats are in Alidade’s village, and they are a nuisance, and aside from some commentary about humans always seeking power, that is all readers get because, in the end, the Night Coats are just around to give Alidade an antagonist.

The rest of the story is just as underdeveloped and lackluster. Politics and history are glossed over with the barest minimum needed to give Alidade a reason to try to become a Mapmaker. Her victory over the Night Coats is swift, confusing, and so easy it feels anti-climatic. Do I want to read a sequel to this book? No, not at all.

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic has a lot of promise, but it does not live up to that promise. If you are seeking an insightful book on politics, power, and oppression, other books have done a similar plotline and they have done it more effectively. With all the compelling middle grade graphic novels out there, this one is not really fleshed out enough or original enough to feel necessary.

2 star review

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Information

GoodreadsSkandar and the Unicorn Thief
Series: Skandar #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Skandar Smith dreams of leaving the Mainland to join the Island as a unicorn rider. All he has to do is pass the Hatchery exam, and he will be one of the chosen few to travel to the island and hatch a real, life unicorn. But not the type of unicorns people on the Mainland thought were cute (and imaginary). Real life unicorns are vicious, violent creatures who can control the elements, and share that magic with their bonded riders.

But the Hatchery exam does not go as planned, and Skandar finds his world shrinking–until a stranger knocks on his door at midnight and smuggles him onto the Island. People are disappearing, and a mysterious figure known as the Weave is stealing unicorns. And Skandar might be the only one who can save the Island.

Star Divider

Review

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief proved a bit of a rollercoaster read for me. While it starts out feeling a bit slow and rather derivative, over time the pace picks up and the action drew me in. I initially thought I would end up DNFing the book, but discovered that I eventually enjoyed it for what it is–a fun middle grade fantasy that does not try to do much of anything new, but does relish in bringing out all the old favorite tropes. A solid read I think tween readers especially will enjoy.

The main draw for Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is presumably the “twist” on unicorn lore–the book makes a big deal out of noting that unicorns in this world are not the cute, rainbow-pooping creatures trending in pop culture right now, but rather vicious monsters who can kill. There are actually numerous fantasy books were unicorns are presented as wild and dangerous, so it’s not that original. However, I will accept that today’s tweens are so immersed in the glittery kind of unicorns that this might seem incredibly weird and innovative to the target audience.

And that’s the main draw, initially. “Look how scary these things are!” the book shouts. “They shoot lightning! They can trample you to death!” The dangerousness of unicorns is so hyped up, I began to wonder exactly why the protagonist wanted a unicorn of his own. Unicorn riders are treated as international celebrities, and audiences gather worldwide to watch the riders and their unicorns fight it out to see who will be in charge of the unicorn Island. But…it all seems so bloodthirsty! Why should I sympathize with Skandar wanting a unicorn of his very own so he can try to kill or maim another rider just so he can be on TV?? But this is to wonder too much. I think it’s just supposed to be like Pokemon, where you watch “caring” humans battle and injure their beloved animals and cheer them on instead of reporting them to the authorities responsible for animal welfare. So, if you or your child likes Pokemon, maybe Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is for you!

Despite all the hype about these bizarrely non-sparkly unicorns, however, the beginning feels slow. I felt like I could have been reading just about any other middle grade fantasy and getting a similar experience. The worldbuilding tried for something unique, but making the boarding school be a series of treehouses did not feel all that innovative. Then, once the pacing picked up, it felt choppy, with Skandar and his friends too easily completing different tasks that should have been impossible for a bunch of new students with almost no training.

By the middle of the book, however, I did somehow find myself immersed. I began to get more interested in the question of who the Unicorn Thief was, and what their end goal is. The pacing was still a bit uneven, with Skandar and his friends again completing tasks with a bit too much ease. But I enjoyed the action and the drama for what it was, without worrying too much that the book and its elements do not particularly stand out from similar titles.

If you enjoyed middle grade fantasy, and are looking for your next read, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is worth a try!

4 stars

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by by Tọlá Okogwu (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun
Series: Onyeka #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: June 14, 2022

Official Summary

Onyeka has a lot of hair­—the kind that makes strangers stop in the street and her peers whisper behind her back. At least she has Cheyenne, her best friend, who couldn’t care less what other people think. Still, Onyeka has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls…until the day Cheyenne almost drowns and Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own, inexplicably pulling Cheyenne from the water.

At home, Onyeka’s mother tells her the shocking truth: Onyeka’s psycho-kinetic powers make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with super powers unique to Nigeria. Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies…

Star Divider

Review

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is a unique and fun-filled adventure about magic and finding a place for oneself sure to appeal to fans of magic school stories. Onyeka, upon suddenly finding the hair she’s always hated and struggled to manage is magic and that her abilities are related to her missing father, is whisked off to her home country of Nigeria, where she must navigate controlling her new powers while also making friends and adjusting to living in a new place.

The descriptions of the magic academy and of Nigeria will draw readers in and make the story feel real, as do the little hints of darkness scattered about: the fact that the children at the academy must live away from their parents, the idea they don’t know everything about their powers, the suggestion that something terrible has happened to Onyeka’s own parents.

Yet the darkness is balanced by Onyeka’s resilience, making her a character to root for, while her new friends are brave and loyal and just about everything one could hope for in a support group.

I do think:

1) the mentions of Onyeka’s hatred of her own hair could have been toned down. I appreciate it as a central theme of the story; I simply mean that the character seems to bring it up every 2 pages, and I believe the author could have created the same effect and explored the same things while cutting a few of these references.

2) the pacing feels a bit off. It took me a while to get into the story at the beginning, and then things begin to happen extremely quickly, and then the whole book ends on a cliffhanger. This is by no means a standalone book; expect it to end seemingly in the middle of the story, just as events start to really start going somewhere.

Overall, this is an immersive tale that feels fresh, and it will likely keep a lot of readers on the edges of their seats. Just wait for the sequel to be released if you’re the type of person who likes to read a full story all at once.

Briana
3 Stars

The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis

The Raven Heir

Information

GoodreadsThe Raven Heir
Series: The Raven Crown #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Gift
Publication Date: August 2021

Summary

Cordelia lives in an enchanted forest with her triplets Giles and Rosalind, her mother, older brother, and a servant. The triplets have been hidden away from the outside world for years, not knowing that one of them is heir to the Raven Throne. But then a group of men breach the castle, determined to take one of the triplets for the throne. But the triplets are just a pawn in an unending war. Taking the crown would mean certain death. So, when their mother and brother are taken prisoner, the three flee into the forest. Only by restoring their connection to the land can they save their mother–and maybe the kingdom.

Star Divider

Review

The Raven Heir has a fascinating premise. Three triplets live in the forest, unknowing that one of them–the eldest, whichever that is–is actually the heir to the Raven Throne. But, for now, they live a sheltered life where their mother protects their home with magic and Cordelia learns to shapeshift into various animals, while Giles writes songs and Rosalind practices swordplay. Their life is shattered when a group of knights comes to take one to act as a puppet ruler. But however wonderful the premise, the execution falls short. I thought the politics were nonsensical, the characters annoying, and the plot too episodic and fast-paced. I wanted to love such a magical-sounding book, but I found myself desperately hoping the book would just end already.

Logic is one of the aspects of a book I highly value, and any politics that do not make sense are likely to make me immediately skeptical of a book. The Raven Heir does not have logical politics. Or, at least, I do not think it does; they are too thinly sketched for readers to have any deep understanding of what is actually happening in the kingdom. One gets the sense that the author wanted to provide just enough information to explain why the triplets have to flee, but that fleshing out an actual political landscape was deemed unnecessary. The idea is basically that a group of knights have to kidnap a triplet to act as ruler, while they actually rule behind the scenes. Other factions favor other puppet rulers. I…really did not understand why a group of men had to kidnap a random child at all. If they are all fighting for the throne, and everyone knows the child ruler is a farce, one of them can just fight for the throne and sit on it themselves. That is normally how new dynasties start, isn’t it? The strongest army wins. No need to chase a bunch of children through the forest.

Aside from that, the characters were really, really annoying. Even though there is an armed force at the gates, none of the children takes it seriously and Cordelia decides to just leave the castle and wander around their camp. This naturally leads to disaster, creating a series of events where Giles and Rosalind also do not take their imminent deaths seriously, instead choosing to dilly dally in the forest while being chased by armed soldiers, shout at the tops of their voices while they are being hunted, and generally squabble about everything instead of working together to make a plan and survive. It ends with an out-of-the blue betrayal just for dramatic effect. I did not care about any of the triplets and certainly did not care if they managed to save the kingdom or not.

The plot pacing was really fast-paced, with the children going through a series of episodes to constitute a grand adventure of some sort, before they reached the dramatic climax. Because the pacing is so fast, the children seem to get out of each situation with unbelievable ease. Rosalind, for instance, is apparently, as a child, equal to nine fully trained knights in battle. How convenient. I simply could not suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy this tale.

The idea of a shapeshifting protagonist is cool, but it is not enough to outweigh the other aspects of the work. I can see this book being received more favorably by the children it is intended for, however, since they may not care as much about logical politics or even having child protagonists exhibit more believable training. There is only book one in a series, but I do not see myself continuing any farther.

2 star review