Kelcie does not remember her past, only that she was dumped into Boston Harbor as a child. So she is shocked to discover an entryway into the Otherworld and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts. There, she learns that she is a Saiga and can control the elements. But her kind are not looked upon favorably; a former Saiga betrayed the country and the queen. Still, Kelcie is determined to prove herself because she cannot afford to lose her place at the Academy and, with it, the only friends she has ever known.
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy of the Unbreakable Arts introduces readers to a magical world perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers, Nevermoor, and Percy Jackson. The school of magic is a perennially popular fantasy element, while the addition of Celtic mythology gives the Otherworld a unique flair. Combine a fascinating premise with fast-paced action and a bit of mystery, and the result is a book sure to keep readers glued to the edges of their seats.
As is usual with these types of books, readers will find plenty of familiar tropes. Kelcie, for instance, has a mysterious past since she was abandoned as a child and does not know who her parents are. Clearly they were special, however, and so is she; readers can expect a Chosen One plotline from the start. Add in the portal to another world, a series of tests to be passed to gain acceptance into a world that distrusts her, and a looming war and you have all the elements that typically grip middle grade readers. It might be familiar to adults, but younger readers often find it new, or simply do not mind if it is old.
The one element I did not particularly care for is Kelcie’s sarcasm, but I know I tend to in a minority with that opinion. Writers often use sarcasm to try to suggest that a character is witty or cunning, which I do not agree with. Here, it is at least used more, I think, to indicate Kelcie’s insecurity as well as her bold personality and short temper. The writing does have a distinct Percy Jackson feeling, with all the sassiness, and since that series is so popular, I do not think that it will harm the readership much. (Though that is part of the reason I never connected with the Percy Jackson books!)
On the whole, the Kelcie Murphy series seems poised for success in a market currently flooded with books featuring schools of magic as well as various mythologies. At some point, the market may become oversaturated and readers will tire of this trend. For now, however, the series is at least a solid readalike for fans seeking more books like the ones from Rick Riordan and the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.
When Winston accidentally prevents a shop from being robbed, the owner offers him the first item he touches. Too bad he grabs an old broom and dustpan by mistake! But something about the cleaning supplies is not right. Items start disappearing from Winston’s home. Could the broom and the dustpan be stealing them?
I greatly enjoyed Stacey Lee’s YA historical fiction, The Downstairs Girl andLuck of the Titanic, so was thrilled to see her move into middle grade fantasy. However, while the premise of Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies is exciting, the transition from one age range and genre to another feels a bit rough. Lee’s great strength in her previous works lies largely in her characters, as well as her vivid details about the past. Here, while the whimsies are humorous and inventive, the characters feel flat and the plot simply peters out without conclusion. I closed the pages feeling unsatisfied, and wondering if there is supposed to be a sequel to tie up all the loose threads.
Thinking back on the book, I have difficulty in remembering anything significant about the bulk of the characters, aside from Winston’s older sister and her would-be boyfriend. Winston himself feels a bit unremarkable, the typical “good” kid who tries to help his family and do well in school and at sports. And his three friends simply blend into each other; their purpose is to be his support team, but not to shine as individuals. There should be a lot of heart in this book, since Winston and his older sister still grieve the loss of their dad, killed by friendly fire. But it feels a bit like the need to be inventive about the whimsies came at the cost of deepening the interior lives of the characters.
The whimsies are admittedly fun, if a bit elusive. It actually took me awhile to realize the connection between the title and the whimsies as the whimsies are not really called “the whimsies” in the book. Winston simply enters a magical shop with “Whimsies” in the name, and readers have to make the connection. And I am still a bit at a loss about what the connection is, since Winston is not actually in competition with the whimsies, but with the proprietor of the shop. But perhaps this is to think too deeply. Readers are just meant to laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of the objects.
What really disappointed me, however, is the plot, which feels half-baked and certainly not conclusive. Readers are left with many questions at the end, and no way to know what exactly happened to a bunch of the characters Winston and his friends were either helping or fighting. The abrupt ending is so unusual, I thought there must be a sequel in the works. But, even if that were true, there should be more information at the end to give readers a sense of closure. I am completely baffled no editors mentioned this! The ending is indeed enough to make me hesitant to recommend the book to young readers, who probably will not enjoy the sensation of being left adrift at sea.
Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies has an inventive premise and plenty of humor. The characters, however, feel flat and the ending drives right off a cliff. I typically enjoy Stacey Lee’s work, but am hoping that her next foray into middle grade feels a bit more polished.
Goodreads: Claire and the Dragons Series: Claire and the Dragons #1 Age Category: Middle Grade Source: Library Published: 2022
Years ago, a village elder named Lontar received a message from a spirit. If he retreated to a cave, the dragons would leave the world. If he ever exited the cave, the dragons would return. Lontar awaits the rise of the one hero who can stop the dragons. He believes it is the girl Claire. Unfortunately, the world had stopped believing in dragons.
Claire and the Dragons has an interesting premise. However, the neutral color palette, unremarkable (for me) art style, underdeveloped characters, and underdeveloped worldbuilding all make it a bit lackluster. Add in the impossibly tiny font and this is a book I struggled to get through. I like dragons, and I can imagine tween dragon lovers overlooking the flaws in this comic. For, me however, the fact that the story is so short was an absolute gift, as I am not sure I would have finished the story otherwise.
The story begins vaguely enough. Readers learn that Lontar, long ago, received a message that the world is being punished for the evils of men, but he can stop the dragon attacks by entering a cave and never leaving. If he leaves, the dragons return, so he needs to wait for a truly good person (who can kill the dragons) before he can rejoin society. This is all a bit strange. What exactly have men done to deserve this? Where did the dragons go? What are the spirits and how did they arrange the dragon disappearance? But, sure, it’s just the first few pages and I’m willing to suspend disbelief/wait for more information to be revealed. Strangely, however, this never happens.
The vague introduction is exactly how the rest of the story proceeds. Readers receive information without much clarity or explanation. Claire, we learn, is the truly good person who can save the world. Why Lontar thinks so is mystifying. Claire speaks up for others and tries to help them, but she also seems kind of like a grumpy, not-very-friendly person whose first response to being antagonized is violence. I thought a “truly good” person would try de-escalation methods first, learn about her enemies, and attempt to understand why they are lashing out so she can help. I understand that method might not work with the dragons she is supposed to face, who seem like standard monsters and aren’t anthropomorphic. But she does this with people, too.
Claire never tries to get to know anyone, so none of the characters seem fully developed. She just bounces from one adventure to another, sometimes aiding others and other times being rescued herself. It is exciting enough, but I found I did not particularly care about any of the characters, including Claire, because I did not know who they were or what drives them. Most of them do not even receive names.
Reading the minuscule font to attempt to make sense of the underdeveloped world and characters really did not seem worth it. I also was not particularly captured by the art style, so this graphic novel is just mediocre for me. The story ends quickly and seems to be set up for a few sequels, but I imagine I will have forgotten about Claire and the Dragons before they get published.
Stone-in-the-Glen was once a lovely town. Then the library burned down. Soon, the school and the park are destroyed, too. The mayor, alone, can help, he says. But the neighborliness of the town disappears, too. And the Mayor claims it is because an Ogress has moved in on the edge of town. Take back the town and make the city neighborly again, the Mayor cries! The orphans know the Ogress is not to blame. But how can they make the town lovely again when everyone seems determined to ignore facts?
Once again, I think Kelly Barnhill has done a wonderful job in writing a middle grade book that will largely appeal to adults. The Ogress and the Orphans is a fable-esque fantasy clearly responding to Trump-era politics. The message–stated out loud, repeatedly, in case readers do not have the brain capacity to figure it out themselves–is that fake news and emotions sometimes trump logic and lead to evil, but a little bit of neighborliness can save the world. The world is compelling and the characters sympathetic, if overly precocious, but while I can see this book as the type to win awards, I can’t think of any actual tweens who would pick this up.
One of Barnhill’s worst flaws as a storyteller is that her works are incredibly redundant. Characters have the same conversations over and over. And her narrators–in this case, an omniscient anonymous “someone” whose identity is easily discernible from the start–like to spell out the moral of the story. Again. And again. And again. The Ogress and the Orphans has, “Be good. Do good!” as its own little mantra, interspersed with the orphans philosophizing on the nature of goodness and on the definition of “neighbor.” “Look at how one person can do good and inspire others to do good!” is also a recurring sentiment. We get it. Barnhill wants us to reject Trump-era politics, embrace diversity and immigration, and be kind to others. But we probably didn’t need almost 400 pages for that message to come across.
If one can get past the redundancy and the didacticism, there is a charming story embedded in here. One with ogres and dragons and talking animals. At times, the book has an old-school feel, and even a hint of magic. I just wish that Barnhill’s editors would have slimmed down some of the moralizing to let the story shine. I feel certain younger readers would respond to the story. I am not sure they will appreciate the preaching.
Barnhill’s books get so much attention, I believe, because adults and especially teachers, librarians, and publishers respond to the messages they promote. The Ogress and the Orphans, for instance, simplifies things a bit for children, so the bare bones story line is that the town of Stone-in-the-Glen stopped being neighborly when a wicked politician burned down the library. Books have ideas! Books have information! Give someone the right book, and they will have the right ideas (which in this case means rejecting Trumpian politics, being kind to each other, and reopening the library and the school). That’s a feel-good message for the publishing industry and for anyone who promotes books and literacy. Add in a bit more “deep” messaging about one person being able to change the world and you have an award winner!
I am truly interested, however, in how actual children respond to this book. To me, it seems obviously aimed at an adult audience. The messaging is too direct, the plot too slow, and the whole book too redundant. Even the orphans, whose precociousness might seem charming to grown-ups, might seem unrealistic or vaguely sickening to children. There is a difference between children’s books for children and children’s books adults like, and this is decidedly the latter.
Kitchen witch Planchette buys a new house, only to discover that the discounted price must have been because it is haunted! Unfortunately, Planchette’s powers are mostly good for cooking and not for exorcisms, so she heads to town to make new friends and find a little help to reclaim her home.
Unfamiliar is a fun graphic novel that I am sure will appeal particular to tween and teen readers with its quirky art style and somewhat random storytelling arc. For my own part, I find it rather obvious that the book began as a webcomic. The plot is all over the place and makes no significant headway before the book abruptly ends–no closure here, just a hope that readers will return for the next installment! But I do know many younger readers who will enjoy the characters and the premise, without worrying about the overall structure. So, pick this one up if you enjoy webcomics, I guess!
I am sure many types of webcomics exist. My own limited experience, however, is that often these stories kind of meander along with no real place to go–at least not in a hurry–because the creators want readers to keep returning. Oftentimes, the focus is more on the characters than the plot. This seems to be the case with Unfamiliar. The book sets up the initial premise–that kitchen witch Planchette has a haunted house and needs help removing the ghosts–but then diverts immediately into introducing the new characters, Planchette’s found family: a siren who does not like attention, a not-powerful witch from a very powerful family, and a girl under a curse. Backstories are given and friendships formed. Aw! No need to worry about the actual problem here. The ghosts can wait while readers go on little “side quests” with all the new characters.
This sort of storytelling may be unfocused, but undoubtedly has its fans. Personally, I would have preferred for book one to have, at least, a discernible sort of arc so I could feel closure at the end, and then an invitation to keep reading with book two. I was surprised that Planchette made almost no progress on her house issue, and that the book seems to end practically mid-scene. This will, I think, frustrate some readers, even if they enjoy the story. Most readers do not want to be hanging like this. It’s not a well-crafted cliffhanger or anything like that. It just…stops. Presumably because the story was conceived of as one continuous work, and not meant to be broken up here at all.
The artwork is also a bit too quirky for my taste. I like the “cutesy” nature of the illustrations and can see it appealing to readers. I do not like the way the eyes are drawn with actual objects in them instead of pupils. (And not the usual dollar signs or hearts. More like, if the protagonist sees a pony she likes, her eyes both have ponies inside.) It looks weird and creepy, yes, but also seems like a strange shorthand. Instead of drawing characters with actual emotions, the artist can just put pictures in their eyes to show what they are thinking. I would prefer more emotive characters instead of the pupil replacement strategy.
Unfamiliar has an intriguing premise and introduces some characters I would like to see more of. It is not for me, however, a must-read series. I can see myself forgetting about it and losing interest by the time a book two is released.
Goodreads: No One Leaves the Castle Series: None Age Category: Middle Grade Source: Netgalley Publication Date: August 15, 2023
Agatha Christie meets the Brothers Grimm in an unexpected, hilarious, and wholly original new fantasy-mystery from the beloved author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.
The Lilac. The bard songs say that she’s the world’s most fearsome bounty hunter. That there’s no criminal she can’t catch, no mystery she can’t solve.
None of that is true. Yet.
In reality, the Lilac is just a kid, and the bard who wrote all that is her best friend, Dulcinetta. But the Lilac has set her goals on becoming the best bounty hunter in the Thirteen Kingdoms—and when a priceless artifact goes missing from the home of famed monster hunter Baron Angbar, the Lilac and Netta are eager to apprehend the thief and make a name for themselves.
But when their investigation brings them to a dinner party at Castle Angbar, and they meet the Angbar family and their servants and guests—an unsavory group of nobles, mages, and assorted creatures, each more shady than the last—the Lilac begins to wonder if the reward is worth the trouble.
And that’s before the dead body is discovered.
Now everyone is magically sealed inside the castle—and there is a murderer among them. If the Lilac wants to make it out with her reputation intact, it’s going to be up to her to figure out who the killer is. But everyone in the castle—even the Lilac herself—has secrets to hide, and as the walls literally start to close in around them, the Lilac worries that her first job as a bounty hunter may be her last. . . .
No One Leaves the Castle is a hilarious romp that expertly combines absurdity with mystery. This is a book will all the elements come together and the genre-bending truly works. The faux medieval setting engages while the mystery is a real conundrum that will leave readers puzzling and scratches their head till the end.
I was hooked on this story from the start. Healy’s tongue-in-cheek narrator keeps things lively with his commentary and descriptions, and readers are immediately drawn into a crazy tale where a man goes looking for a bounty hunter for his ruthless employer and accidentally ends up hiring an inexperienced girl. Of course, she’s the protagonist, so she’s more than what she seems, and she comes with her own sidekick bard who sings surprisingly good verses about all the action happening in the book. It’s a funny set-up, but it comes with a lot of insight and heart, as well as excellent characterization.
And complex characterization, of course, is essential for a good mystery. I was quite pleased to discover that the mystery portion of this book lives up to the rest of the elements — the humor, the magic, the world building — and much of that is due to so many of the characters having secrets and hidden agendas and motives and lack-of motives that everything gets delightfully twisty. And Healy makes it worse (better!) by putting a time constraint on the mystery. If the Lilac doesn’t solve it fast enough, more people are going to die!! I think I felt the pressure as much as the Lilac herself.
This whole book is so delightful (in spite of people dying and some unsavory characters . . .) that I cannot help but wish for more. Can I not have a sequel with more of the Lilac’s adventures? And the bard. Everyone loves a good bard. This is definitely one of my top reads of the year. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Asha was abandoned as a baby. Now she travels with Madame Suna and their troop of performers. But, unknown to herself, Asha contains great power, and someone is seeking her. She will have to seek the Underground Kingdom of legend to discover her destiny.
Where the Black Flowers Bloom is a fast-paced fantasy adventure set in Alkebulan (the ancient name for Africa) and infused with African (and a bit of European) mythology. The short length and episodic nature of the story will likely keep the attention of young readers, while Asha’s growing powers and secret destiny will likely intrigue them. For my part, I am a bit done with Chosen Ones who need no training and no struggle to become heroes, so this book is not for me. But I can see it appealing to the lower middle grade crowd.
I went into this book hoping for some fantastic worldbuilding and I think, for young readers, what is given will work. There are a few mentions of The Five to connote a religion and a vague explanation of magical powers that rely on the elements. It’s not much really, just a gesture towards acknowledging this world is not ours. There is also a lot of build up to the secret Underground Kingdom, with adults saying the people of the Underground Kingdom, the Aziza, are of legend and maybe were never real. The book later explains that they were around until 12 years ago, so it seems a bit too soon for all memory of them to have faded into legend. Maybe for Asha, who would not have lived in a world with them, but the adults should know! This bit of worldbuilding tripped me up a bit since it did not seem wholly logical, especially when the adults Asha speaks to are travelers and not isolated from the rest of the world. But I suppose plenty of other readers can overlook this logical plot hole, or find a way to explain it.
What I really would have liked in regards to the worldbuilding is some more expansion on the African mythology advertised by the official summary. I looked up the magic gazelles (“Gazella”) in the book, as well as the Butrungin, and didn’t get any search results. There is also an order called the Inyanga, who seem to control the elements, and the internet mainly seems to ascribe the name to healers, though the book clearly depicts them more as magicians or sorcerers. The Aziza did get a search hit. So did the Seelie and the Unseelie Court, which, to my knowledge, are considered Scottish faeries, but here are associated with a character said to be from Mercia. Many authors have notes explaining their inspiration and the tales that they used to write the books. I would have loved to see something like that here, so readers like me could have a firmer grasp on where to start research into the mythology advertised by the publisher. And so younger readers, who might not be doing a lot of research, have some more background information.
The characterization and the plot are sparse, just like the worldbuilding. The important thing, the only thing readers really need to know, is that the protagonist Asha has been chosen to be a hero, for reasons unknown. It cannot be said that she possesses any special qualities to be a hero or a leader. In fact, she remains content to let the adults around her make the decisions and tell her what to do and when. (Points for actually having involved, capable adults in a children’s book! Though maybe they are trying to retain their grip on reality since the former ruling class probably don’t actually want to give up leading their people in favor of a girl no one has met before and who has no claim to be ruler except the prophecy.) To help with her lack of qualifications (and interest), Asha is gifted with a magic weapon that seems to do most of her fighting for her, since she has minimal training. As I said, this is a typical Chosen One book. I did not like it; younger readers might.
I see Where the Black Flowers Bloom appealing to younger readers who like fast-paced, action-packed adventures where one fight scene leads right into another, and worldbuilding and characterization are less valued than plot. The type of fantasy where anyone can be the hero is certainly one that will speak to many who dream of doing heroic deeds, even if the structure of the book could be improved.
Goodreads: The Guardian Test Series: The Legends of Lotus Island #1 Age Category: Chapter book Source: Giveaway? Publication Date: March 7, 2023
Young Plum is shocked to discover that she’s been accepted to the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island, an elite school where kids learn how to transform into Guardians, magical creatures who are sworn to protect the natural world. The Guardian masters teach Plum and her friends how to communicate with animals and how to use meditation to strengthen their minds and bodies. All the kids also learn to fight, so they can protect the defenseless if needed.
To her dismay, Plum struggles at school. While her classmates begin to transform into amazing creatures, Plum can’t even seem to magic up a single feather! If she can’t embrace her inner animal form soon, she’ll have to leave school ― and lose the first group of real friends she’s ever known.
The Guardian Test is a cheerful and fun story that follows Plum as she leaves her isolated island where she grew up helping her grandparents on a farm to attend the prestigious Guardian Academy on Lotus Island. Her goal: transform into an animal Guardian form by the end of the first stage of training, so she can continue on learning to be a protector of both people and animals.
I say the book is “fun” because while there are a couple little bumps and obstacles and tiny plot twists, this is really just a short book for younger readers where the pacing isn’t meant to be what it would in an adult book, or even an upper middle grade. Plum’s journey is all about the magic of, well, trying to learn some magic, while also discovering new things and making some new friends (and encountering some bullies because every school seems to have those). I wasn’t really surprised by anything that happens in the story; I was simply delighted, and I think the target audience will be delighted to.
The world is nicely fleshed out, even in the limited space the author has, and there are hints about broader problems and politics at play that I expect to be explored in book 2. There are a couple mysteries, like what everyone’s Guardian form will be and what the best ways to train are. I enjoyed discovering these little things along with the characters.
Plum herself is a charming character, a little removed from the world as she seems to know mostly about her own island and none of the others, but it gives the author an excuse to tell her and the reader new information. Plum is good with plants and animals, kind, and hard working. She tries to see the best in others even when they are not kind to her. It’s nice to follow her journey and hope she succceeds.
If you have a young reader in your life, especially one who likes fantasy, this is a good pick! I’m not sure exactly what it’s classified as, perhaps a short chapter book? And I assume the pictures are also delightful, based as the cover, but there were none in the ARC, just spaces left where the illustrations are supposed to go.
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
I have mixed feelings about The Girl Who Drank the Moon. On the one hand, I adored many of the characters, especially the friendly swamp monster Glerk and the tiny dragon Fyrian. On the other hand, I found the story a bit overly pretty and sentimental, and thought some parts redundant. In the end, I think I enjoyed the book as much as I did primarily because I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Christina Moore, who makes the story sound absolutely magical. Left to my own devices, I fear I would have found the book a bit too sweet, with its knowing tone and parts narrated directly by an unknown mother-figure to the reader.
First things first–much of the writing in The Girl Who Drank the Moon is really beautiful, and many of the characters are vividly and lovingly drawn. I wanted to live in a place where such kind people (and monsters!) exist and work to help each other no matter what. The adorable tiny dragon Fyrian, who imagines himself a giant, was a particular favorite of mine. I also grew to love Glerk, a swamp monster who is both wise and kind, and willing to do anything for the people he cares about. The relationships made me tear up a little.
The writing of the book is a bit confusing, though. I do think, without Christina Moore’s masterful narration, I would have found the tone sickly sweet, and the repetition more infuriatingly redundant than “mystical.” But the sentimental tone and the “story narrated by a mother to her child” trick both suggest the book is written for quite young children, while the content is more mature. For instance, readers get quite a few chapters from the perspective of a mother who lost her baby and is now experiencing depression as she is imprisoned by some apparently wicked sisters. While I like books that defy convention, having an adult perspective like this is quite unusual for a middle grade book, which is typically aimed at 8-12 year-olds. As an adult, I found a mother’s depression over the loss of her child quite powerful. But I wonder what the average tween would make of it.
I do see why this is the type of book that collected awards. It combines a magical world with some pointed reflections on the power of love and the nature of family, and shows an adult perspective–something I think awards committees (full of adults) are sometimes drawn to, regardless of how the intended child audience might respond. I liked this book, as an adult. But when I think of tween readers I know who might like a slow-paced, repetitive fantasy with a lot of adult perspectives, I find myself a bit stumped. I think the book is good, but the marketing label might be wrong. Having a child protagonist does not automatically make a book a children’s book!
Goodreads: Stellarlune Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #9 Source: Library Publication Date: 2022
Keefe is on the run. But Sophie has to trust he is okay. She struck at the Neverseen, and now her allies fear retaliation. But Lady Gisela is planning something, too. Sophie just doesn’t know what.
I have had conflicting thoughts about the Keeper of the Lost Cities books, and book nine neatly encapsulates many of the things I both love and hate about the series. Initially, I fell in love with the series, and would loudly proclaim to one and all the reasons everyone should pick it up. However, the series kept growing. I think it was supposed to initially only be five books, then seven, then nine, then book 8.5 came out, and then this book, Stellarlune was finally supposed to wrap everything up. But guess what? It doesn’t! Book 10 (or 11, if you count book 8.5) is on the way!
As the series grew, Messenger started obviously making up new plot twists that didn’t really make sense, but made for good cliffhangers. Consequently, the overall plot was lost and the series ended up with three different villains who probably should be connected, but aren’t, really. Additionally, the character list became so long that Messenger tends to drop them for a few books at a time–even main characters like Sophie’s “best friend” Dex or boys who were set up to be potential crushes. Then, plot elements started to repeat themselves. Book 8.5 was an especial low for the series, as it is almost entirely just a compilation of already known facts from the series, presented as an “encyclopedia,” with a novella at the end that made it so that fans had to buy the book to keep up with the story–even though it felt like a blatant cash grab. And now, there is…whatever Stellarlune is. Which is a book heavily suffering from middle book syndrome, rehashing old plot points for at least 350 pages, before finally getting the plot moving again.
One of the most annoying features of the series is that the books range from 700-900 pages, but they could each easily be half the length, if any editor wanted to bother reining Messenger in. (But this is a bestselling series, so no need to bother trying for a good book when people will buy it anyway, yeah?) Much of the waste comes from Sophie discovering something, then reporting her discovery to everyone she knows, usually two or three times. While most books would cut to the chase with a phrase such as, “Sophie filled them in,” and then describing the listener’s reaction, Messenger loves to have Sophie actually tell everyone what happened with a blow-by-blow, every. single. time. Heck, she even had Sophie recap the last few books for another character in what was supposed to be a pep talk, but really just sounded like Sophie humble bragging. I don’t know why this is such a prominent feature of the books, but apparently what Messenger thinks fans want is the characters standing around talking for hundreds of pages about what happened and how they all feel about it, but never doing anything till the big finale.
For years, I was okay with how goofy this series is and loved to laugh at how bad the writing is, just because I like being in Sophie’s world and because I like the characters. Book 8.5 really soured me on the series, though, since now Messenger seems to be drawing out the books just because she can–and presumably because the publisher thinks they will sell no matter what. Book 8.5 ends with a repeat of a plot point that had already happened. Book 9 then opens with everyone discussing this event, then goes into a rehash of the Fitz-Sophie relationship drama, even though it should be clear by now that that ship has sailed. I honestly felt like throwing the book at a wall until the midway point, when things started to happen and the plot actually seemed to be relevant again. I did have to laugh, though, at how this book has characters suddenly and repeatedly pointing out how the protagonists do nothing but stand around and argue, leading them to be the world’s most ineffective defense team. I guess if you point out the main flaw in your plot, that makes it okay?
Sadly, the mystery and drama promised to fans never get realized. [Potential spoilers.] Caches with Forbidden Secrets are now in play, and they are supposed to hold memories so terrible, they could shatter a person’s mind. They don’t. And it is strange even Messenger does not seem to realize that, since Sophie is going around collecting Forbidden Secrets like Pokemon cards and does not seem the least bit worried or upset by them. If a teenager can open the caches, why is the Council so intent on insisting they are dangerous? More dangerous truths were revealed about Elven actions in previous books when the big showdown with the Neverseen was not even supposed to be imminent. I also am confused about the new role of caches here, as I thought the whole point was that guilt could shatter an Elven mind, so they had to hide their terrible deeds done in the name of leadership. But the memories here are typically not anything that the holders should feel that guilty about–often just stuff they saw that made them sad. And, as the book suddenly seems to have realized, but doesn’t know how to address–erasing memories of important matters of state is strikingly ridiculous when government leaders need to know what happened in the past! [End spoilers.]
If you can get to the midway point, the plot is delightful, once more. Readers finally get the Sophie-Keefe confrontation they have all been waiting for. And then lots of dramatic stuff happens so Messenger can end on one of her trademark cliffhangers. I truly did enjoy this half of the book! I just dearly wish that the editor had reduced the page count by half. Or, even more importantly, cut the first 350 pages so Messenger could have actually ended this series.
Because it’s time to let go. Keeper of the Lost Cities was a great series. But, like any thing that becomes successful, it lost its way when the creators wanted to keep it going and the original plot had to be trashed just to keep the thing alive. Now it’s staggering onward, but it’s not particularly pretty to watch. And it’s not fair to fans to milk them each year for cash by publishing a 700-page book in which almost nothing happens.
You must be logged in to post a comment.