Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner, was published in 2017 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to A Conspiracy of Kings.

Deep within the palace of the Mede emperor, in an alcove off the main room of his master’s apartments, Kamet minds his master’s business and his own. Carefully keeping the accounts, and his own counsel, Kamet has accumulated a few possessions, a little money stored in the household’s cashbox and a significant amount of personal power. As a slave, his fate is tired to his master’s. If Nahuseresh’s fortunes improve, so will Kamet’s, and Nahuseresh has been working diligently to promote his fortunes since the debacle in Attolia. A soldier in the shadows offers escape, but Kamet won’t sacrifice his ambition for an eager and unreliable freedom; not until a whispered warning of poison and murder destroys all of his carefully laid plans. When Kamet flees for his life, he leaves behind everything—his past, his identity, his meticulously crafted defenses—and finds himself woefully unprepared for the journey that lies ahead. Pursued across rivers, wastelands, salt plains, snowcapped mountains, and storm-tossed seas, Kamet is dead set on regaining control of his future and protecting himself at any cost. Friendships—new and long-forgotten—beckon, lethal enemies circle, secrets accumulate, and the fragile hopes of the little kings of Attolia, Eddis and Sounis hang in the balance.

Rating: 4/5

I love Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels more and more every time I think of them, The King of Attolia being one of the best books I’ve ever read, and certainly the one book that I could read over and over and never get tired of. I’ve been waiting for Thick as Thieves for years—A Conspiracy of Kings was published 7 years ago—and it’s a tribute to Turner’s writing that I actually bought the book (along with the others) rather than getting it from the library (I actually rarely buy books, and when I do, they’re ones I’ve read before and loved).

The timeline of the Queen’s Thief novels is always hazy, but I believe that Thick as Thieves is set directly after A Conspiracy of Kings, if only because of what we learn has happened in Attolia towards the end of the novel (more on that in a moment). I’d like to thank the Goodreads reviews for filling in some things I didn’t know about the novel, such as that Turner considers it the second half of The King of Attolia.

In terms of style, Thick as Thieves is certainly much more like The Thiefthere’s less political intrigue than in previous books, Kamet and the Attolian (whose identity is fairly obvious but I will keep hidden as Turner does) are traveling on a quest of sorts, and it’s much more of an adventure subtype than the previous three books. In terms of quality, I would place it perhaps on the same level as A Conspiracy of Kings—not my favorite of the Queen’s Thief books, but it has its moments and I especially loved seeing Eugenides being as cunning as usual, as well as his “great king” aura.

What most disappointed me was that the plot was not as intricate or twisty as previous books. In fact, I felt a lot of the twists were fairly obvious—I knew the identity of the Attolian (which Turner perhaps purposefully made obvious) from the start, I knew who Kamet’s friend from the kitchens was from the start, I knew what Eugenides revealed at the end to Kamet about why Kamet was there from the start. There were only one or two minor things that I didn’t figure out almost as soon as it happened. From an author who has made my mouth drop open on numerous occasions, who has me saying “No way!” out loud, the plot complexity in Thick as Thieves was disappointing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I liked Kamet and I liked his struggles as he adjusts to not being a slave. I liked the camaraderie built up between Kamet and the Attolian. I liked the jokes and the humor and the adventures. Even though I had already guessed the plot reveals, I enjoyed their revelation unfold in the book because of the character’s reactions. I’m not sure if I like this book better than A Conspiracy of Kings—the latter has far more of Gen in it and Sounis has great moments in that book—but I think I might grow to like it more, as I have Kings, upon rereading it (and Turner’s books beg for rereads).

I hope the next book has more of Gen and Irene in it, and I especially hope so because of the heartbreaking revelation that occurs in the last third of the book. Turner gives some hope afterwards that things will be all right, but that moment was the most shocking in the book for me.

Thick as Thieves does not really hold a candle to the fantastic The Queen of Attolia, the even better The King of Attolia, or even the first book, The Thief, but it’s engaging, funny, and while the plot reveals were disappointing this time around, they’re still delivered in the classic Turner style and perhaps not everyone found it as obvious as I did.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Immakuk and Ennikar are never seen again, but the floods recede and are never again so sever, so they must still be working the gates of heaven and protecting the city.”

“I’ve never heard of Immakuk, and Ennikar,” he said, and I wasn’t surprised. The Attolians are for the most part uneducated.

“I could tell you more about them if you like. There is a translation of the first tablet into Attolian.”

You can buy this book here:  http://amzn.to/2yvTwl7

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The Tasters Guild by Susannah Appelbaum

The Tasters Guild, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2010 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Hollow Bettle.

After the perilous adventure of The Hollow Bettle, the dark reign of the Nightshades is over at last, and a new day has arrived in Caux, a land long ruled by poison and deceit. The ancient Prophecy—the coming of a Noble Child to cure the one, true King—has finally begun. But fear still grips the people of Caux, for they live in the shadow of the powerful, poisonous Tasters’ Guild. Sequestered high within its corrupt walls sits Vidal Verjouce, the Guild’s diabolical Director, his dark magic more potent than ever. Eleven-year-old Ivy, famed healer and Noble Child, and her friend and taster Rowan must venture inside the Guild itself if they are to find the door to their sister world, Pimcaux-and fulfill the Prophecy. But a deadly weed-once thought extinct-threatens their journey: scourge bracken, a plant dedicated to domination and destruction, also known, ominously, as Kingmaker. Who else has detected it? And will Ivy’s remarkable gift—her dominion over plants and nature—be enough to thwart it?

Rating: 2/5

The Tasters Guild is a decent follow-up to The Hollow Bettle, with more revelations (including a rather obvious one that at least the characters admit is obvious), some interesting plot mechanics, and a more established sense of danger and threat. Just like the first book, I still started on the fence about whether or not I would actually enjoy the book. I liked the first one enough to read the second, but now that I know what to expect in terms of style and voice, that gave me more opportunity to reflect on other things, such as characterization.

There are some prominent weaknesses of The Tasters Guild. For one, it highlights even more how absurd and rushed the ending of the first book is. There’s a whole lot of handwaving going on and I still don’t buy what happened as a plausible or realistic option. Once I noticed that, I noticed how specifically tailored the chapters in the book are to deflect attention. The beginning of each chapter is always a distraction, either through the use of filler or switching points of view in order to avoid explaining important details. I actually grew quite irritated with the way the chapters are structured. At least twice during the novel, some things happened that needed more explanation, but instead—chapter break, viewpoint switch, convenient hand waving.

I may get the last book just to finish out the trilogy, since I do think there is some promise yet even though I grew quite frustrated with The Tasters Guild. I still like the characters, even if both Rowan and Ivy seem to make the same mistakes over and over, and there were some plot developments that I thought were interesting that I would like to see resolved. I’d have to bear with the irritating chapter structures and the glossed-over worldbuilding and plot mechanics, though, and I’m not sure I’d end the trilogy in a very good mood if that’s the case.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Dumbcane has somehow come upon scourge bracken, and it, beyond anything else, must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Vidal Verjouce, or—”

“Or what?”

“Or all of Caux’s green earth will be reduced to ash. There will be no Prophecy to fulfill, no Doorway to Pimcaux.” Cecil walked over to Dumbcane’s window and upended the dead potted plants to illustrate. “Just blackness and destruction.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yY7IR1

Wildwood by Collin Meloy

Wildwood, by Collin Meloy, was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray.

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird. You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands from “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it. And this is where the crows take her brother. So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the mist of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends finds themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Rating: 2/5

Wildwood is a Narnia-esque fantasy novel that plucks unsuspecting children from their world into the midst of a world they knew nothing about. Meloy does this through a mysterious forest on the outskirts of Portland that Portia and her friend Curtis are drawn into when Portia’s brother is abducted by crows. Along the way, they encounter anthropomorphic animals, birds, and humans, as well as the White Witch—I mean, the Governess.

I wasn’t particularly enthralled by Wildwood—in fact, the book bored me. I did manage to finish it, if only because I want to make progress on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, but I didn’t like it much. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’ve read books that use the tropes better. It’s not so similar to Narnia as I made it sound, but it’s hard not to think of Narnia, or Oz, or something similar, while you’re reading this book. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I didn’t consider it to be. It was just a little bit too tame for me and not nearly magical or wondrous enough.

Wildwood really lacked the “wow” factor for me. It interested me enough to be able to finish it without much grumbling, but nothing about it amazed me or wanted me to get the next book to find out more about the magical world revealed in the book. If Meloy was trying to draw on Narnia vibes for this novel, he failed spectacularly. It’s not a bad book, or badly written, but it failed to engage me. Also, I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans in fantasy, to be honest, Narnia aside, so perhaps that’s why Wildwood fell so flat.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Birds? What birds?”

“The birds that kidnapped my brother. Crows, actually. A whole flock of ‘em. A murder. Did you know that? That a flock of crows is called a murder?”

Curtis’s face had dropped. “What do you mean, birds kidnapped your brother?” he stammered. “Like, birds?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2g8pMkA

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

Disclaimer: The Day the Angels Fell, by Shawn Smucker, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened. After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?

My rating: 2/5 

The Day the Angels Fell is a sort of mythological story that seems to have been inspired a great deal by Frank Peretti. It starts out really strangely, so strangely that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to either take it seriously or even remotely enjoy myself. There’s strange, magical fortunetellers (who don’t really seem to fit in the story as anything but a way for the protagonist to hear the name “Tree of Life”), shadow beasts, and a mysterious quest that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the beginning.

The book starts fitting together a little better when the main premise of the plot is told via story. Then, things start making sense, though the whole thing is so far-fetched, even as obviously mythological as it is, that I had trouble swallowing the entire premise. I also spent far too long wondering what in the world the title had to do with anything, and wondering if the cat Icarus held any more importance than simply being the vehicle used to start the whole “quest” in motion.

I liked the jumping-back-and-forth through time that happened at the beginning of each section of the chapter; it was interesting to see OldMan!Samuel reflect on and narrate what happened when he was twelve. I also liked that Samuel much more than twelve-year-old Samuel, though at least boy Samuel was acting his age (precisely why I didn’t like him).

I also had a very hard time buying Smucker’s entire message, which is that “death is a gift.” It just smacked of callousness, and to me the tone and delivery was all wrong. You can’t just encompass people’s suffering into one big box and simply say, “Death is a gift.” I mean, I get that Smucker was also pointing out that the power to bring someone back to life might not be all that great to use, but since people who read this will be thinking in terms of general loss, and don’t usually have Trees of Life popping up in their backyard waiting for them, the message falls a little flat.

The Day the Angels Fell is full of MacGuffins, from Icarus the cat, existing solely to jumpstart Sam’s main motivation, to the fortunetellers, who exist solely to have Sam hear the name “Tree of Life” and introduce the mythical nature of the book. It starts out strangely, gets marginally better once all that strangeness is established in a (albeit hard-to-swallow) mythical story, and ends fairly well, though by that time it was too late for me. I liked the older Sam moments, but the younger one annoyed me. I also didn’t particularly like or agree with what Smucker was apparently trying to say about death, which is really only applicable if one has access to a Tree of Life, but a fairly useless, even callous message if there isn’t such a tree. A miss for me, overall, though I will admit I liked Abra and there were some interesting moments in the story that weren’t so bad.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xMsCFe

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan, was published in 2013 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Lost Stories.

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his person demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

Rating: 3/5

The Royal Ranger is a good, albeit not entirely necessary, ending to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It has a tight plot, the same memorable descriptions and hijinks (although toned down a little bit), lots of character development, and introduces a female Ranger. Starting with plot, the main thread of the story was clear and developed well. It perhaps wasn’t as epic in scope as the stand-alone plots of Erak’s Ransom or The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but since the book is massive, there’s quite a lot of meat to it. It’s convenient that the person Will was looking for just so happened to be so heavily involved, but let’s chalk that up to Flanagan being reluctant to leave things uncertain (and prevent even more page length).

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly necessary. It’s nice to see the old heroes “all grown up,” but since Madelyn’s training is practically the same as Will’s (though Flanagan realizes this and does a few things differently) and since this is clearly not a reboot of the series I don’t really understand why Flanagan felt the need to tell this story. Unless fans were begging him for a female Ranger and this was the result. I really don’t feel like a continuation was necessary; The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a fine finale and the series really didn’t need a “20 years” later addition. (Also, how does Will have “steel-gray” hair? Assuming he was 20 in Emperor, that would make him 40 in this one, which is normally not a time when someone has completely gray hair. And his dog is still alive, which seems to say it’s been less than 20 years, which would put him in his 30s.Unless he prematurely grayed because of all the stuff he’s done. Or he was way older in Emperor than I thought).

I also found myself missing certain characters. The book focuses only on Will and Madelyn, with the other familiar characters only showing up at the beginning and end. The absence of Horace and Halt really stood out, as there was much less humor and verbal sparring.

I liked The Royal Ranger, but I found it unnecessary and a bit of a setback. After 10 books, I really don’t need Ranger training and technique explained to me again. There was also less humor and I really missed Horace and Halt. Madelyn was a good character, but as Flanagan doesn’t seem to be planning to reboot the series, she’s also an unnecessary one.

I’ll be reviewing more Flanagan, and I haven’t decided if it will be the prequels to this series (The Early Years) or if it will be Brotherband. I think I might take a break from Halt and Rangers and hang out with Skandians. Brotherband will be a nice change of pace.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“[Will] needs to take on an apprentice,” [Halt] said.

They all turned to look at him. The idea, once stated, seemed so obvious. Both Horace and Pauline nodded. This was what they had been getting at, without realizing it.

Gilan looked hopeful for a few seconds, then shook his head in frustration.

“Problem is,” he said, “we have no suitable candidates at the moment. And we can’t offer him someone substandard. He’ll simply refuse to take on someone who’s not up to scratch and he’ll be right. I won’t be able to blame him for that.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2xEvOlW

Dawn of the Night by Idazle Hunter

Disclaimer: Dawn of the Night, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. No review was required. All opinions are my own.

Paul grew up as the son of a most revered knight, Sir Lawrence Hunter. It had always been his dream to be like his father. At least, that was until he met those he would be training with. Unicorns, dragons, dark spirits, and werecats are brought to life as Paul works to rise from a mere page to something much, much more important in the medieval world .Follow Paul from Cahal to Asthla as he not only searches for power, but for love.

My rating: 1/5 

I actually know the author of this book, so writing this review will be interesting. Luckily, I live in a different state than she does, so it will be difficult for her to track me down and hurt me. I kid. I don’t think she actually expected me to adore the book. In fact, she warned me about some of the more egregious grammar mistakes.

Basically, this is a NaNoWriMo novel that the author wrote in her teens. So, it’s about as good as you’d expect a NaNoWriMo novel written by a teenager to be. So, not particularly good, and filled with some really strange characterization and anachronistic plot details (like the use of the word “oxygen” in a medieval setting before the word “oxygen” was coined). Although, to be honest, this novel might be better than the novel I wrote in college, which was basically a NaNoWriMo novel if NaNoWriMo was a year long (NaNoWriYe?).

The one thing, above all else, that really threw me for a loop was the whole idea that the protagonist is not actually the protagonist. Or, he is, and is just possessed. But, anyway, at some point, “Paul Hunter” stops becoming the protagonist and “dark spirit that took over Paul Hunter’s body” becomes the protagonist. It’s hard to cheer for something so obviously evil. I suppose the dark spirit thing might be just a metaphor, but personified as it is, at some point I stopped hoping that Paul would succeed in what he was doing and simply hoped that Dark Spirit Guy would leave and that the Real Paul Hunter would come back and save the day (from…something. Himself.)

So….yeah. I don’t really have much else to say. Dawn of the Night is not a great book. It’s interesting in a “oh my goodness, how much more dramatic can these characters get” kind of way. The shadow-controlling power is cool, but Dark Spirit Guy needs to leave. Also, I’m not really sure why Paul hates his family. Or why that one king apparently was hated by his guards so much that they had no problems dethroning him on the word of a seventeen-year-old (or however old Paul was). Or why “whom” was so egregiously misused.

So, Idazle Hunter. Thanks for the book. Also, I didn’t like it. Sorry. I’ll still read the sequel, though, because you asked me to.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xTdp6A

The Hollow Bettle by Susannah Appelbaum

The Hollow Bettle, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2009 by Knopf.

There’s little joy left in the kingdom of Caux: the evil King Nightshade rules with terrible tyranny and the law of the land is poison or be poisoned. Worse, eleven-year-old Ivy’s uncle, a famous healer, has disappeared, and Ivy sets out to find him, joined by a young taster named Rowan. But these are corrupt times, and the children—enemies of the realm—are not alone. What exactly do Ivy and Rowan’s pursuers want? Is it Ivy’s prized red bettle, which, unlike any other gemstone in Caux, appears—impossibly—to be hollow? Is it the elixir she concocted—the one with the mysterious healing powers? Or could it be Ivy herself?

Rating: 3/5

As I started The Hollow Bettle, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to enjoy it. It seemed the type of quirky that I don’t like, the type of quirky to cover up mediocre plot and characters, the type of quirky that seems self-indulgent and unnecessary.

However, as the story wore on, I started to enjoy myself more and more. The world is pretty interesting, and even though the major plot trope is unoriginal, the setting and the characters themselves are intriguing enough to carry through. I wasn’t really a fan of the bouncing viewpoints or the narrator interposing his/herself for the sole purpose of suspense, but Ivy and Rowan grew on me over time, even if some of their fights started and ended abruptly.

The ending of the book was also good, if just a teensy bit convenient and a whole lot confusing. I’m not sure if the events warranted what happened and the thing with King Nightshade at the end was particularly difficult to swallow, if only because it seemed so abrupt and didn’t seem to follow from the events that occurred. However, Appelbaum manages the difficult task of both wrapping up the book and also leaving lots of things in suspense, without relying solely on a Wam! cliffhanger ending.

The Hollow Bettle is a little bit amateurish and clumsy, especially in terms of the plot and occasionally the interaction between the characters, but it is interesting and, eventually, endearing despite its flaws. The quirkiness grew on me and the end of the book was decent enough to make me curious to see what happens next. It’s not the most brilliant or the most groundbreaking fantasy out there, but it is interesting.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“But, Axle.” Ivy couldn’t hold back. “You said that the Good King Verdigris created great things, things to marvel at. This is just a doo! Show me this Rocamadour place! Got any drawings of that?”

Rowan bristled at the mention of the dark city of the Guild and thought how he’d be quite happy staring at either side of a plain old door instead. He looked in closer.

“Ah, Ivy. You are right—it is just a door. But there is an important question you need to ask yourself.” Axle sighed.

“May I?” Rowan was hoping to turn back the page to get a better look at the first image. Axle nodded and continued.

“What do you think of when you see a door?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2wPbvBX

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Emperor of Nihon-Ja.

They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.

Rating: 2/5

I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.

As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.

My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.

The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”

Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”

Gilan looked up quickly. “You knew him?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2wmP7zW

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, by Adam Gidwitz, was published in 2016 by Penguin.

61tsxh3l6llOn a dark night in 1242, travelers gather at a small French inn. It is the perfect night for a story, and everyone in the kingdom is consumed by the tale of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future; William, a young monk with supernatural strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy who can heal any wound. Together, their powers will be tested by demons and dragons, cruel knights and cunning monks From small villages to grand banquet halls, these three unlikely friends—and their faithful greyhound—are chased through France to a final showdown in the waves at the foot of the abbey-fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Rating: 1/5

I struggled to finish The Inquisitor’s Tale. After each chapter, I kept thinking that I would stop reading it. But I gritted my teeth and continued, because as much as I am less averse to not finishing a book, I still think it’s a cop-out. So, instead of the book growing on me, or me wanting to know how it ends, I finished the book out of sheer determination, not pleasure.

I can’t even really describe, either, what I disliked so strongly about The Inquistor’s Tale. I found it childish in its humor, overly preachy in its message, and melodramatic with its characters. Gidwitz frames this story like The Canterbury Tales, sort of, and while it’s an interesting device to use and while he does some clever things with it, nothing was truly spectacular or added any depth.

Gidwitz, though dealing a fair hand with his portrayal of religions—somewhat—also emphasizes that sort of bland, all-inclusive type of depiction that culture loves to do. Underneath its preachiness, his message seemed to be nothing more than “live and let live,” but at the same time denounced any form or expression of religion that went against what the characters, and through them, Gidwitz himself, thought was right. So, Gidwitz was, at the same time, emphasizing both inclusivity and exclusivity. Since he’s working within the historical time period, some things he manages to get away with, but for the most part what he’s trying to emphasize is muddled and confused.

If I ever felt physical pain when reading before, The Inquistitor’s Tale is what would cause it. This book did not entertain, engage, or even mildly appeal to me in any way. Add to that a muddled message beneath a, granted, decent Middle Age setting, unrelatable characters, and immature humor, and The Inquisitor’s Tale is not any book I would ever want to read.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Some gruesome scenes.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Middle Grade

Standing in the center of the clearing was a figure as white and shining as a ghost.

But it was not a ghost.

It was a dog.

A white greyhound, with a copper blaze on her forehead.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2w2Kg6K

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Halt’s Peril.

In his brief time as an Araluen warrior, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right. When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn’t long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his—but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.

Rating: 3/5

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is the last Ranger’s Apprentice book I’ve read before. And, at least in the edition I read, it’s marketed as the last book. As there are two more books after this one (though one is, I think, a prequel), clearly Flanagan returned to the series due to popular demand. I’ll be looking forward to reading the eleventh and twelfth books and experiencing them for the first time.

But, back to this book. It’s a stand-alone, which is good after the somewhat tiring formula of most of the other books, but I don’t think it’s as solid and engaging as Erak’s Ransom. There are new characters, new obstacles to surmount, and new enemies to defeat, but there’s never once the possibility that the characters might fail. Even when they’re at their lowest point, it’s never doubtful that they will come out on top in the end. Erak’s Ransom at least separated the characters and had them overcome individual obstacles, especially towards the end. Emperor’s separation of characters is not handled as well, with the girls essentially going to fetch a Deus ex Machina to save the day while the rest just waste time until they get back. There’s not really any sense of urgency because by this point, the reader knows that the rescue will come at the last minute.

There’s also some weird sort of time displacement, where Horace’s point of view is actually several months behind the others, but it’s often forgotten and seems as if it’s happening in real time with what’s happening with Will. In addition, since Horace’s chapters pretty much go over the same ground that was covered when the characters explained why they were going after Horace in the first place, some of his chapters feel meaningless, especially the chapter that depicts George going to send a message right after the chapter where Evanlyn explains that George sent a message.

So, perhaps the Ranger’s Apprentice formula is starting to wear a little thin, after all. I’m not saying The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is a bad book. I enjoyed reading it, as I enjoy reading all the Ranger’s Apprentice books. And this book is still better than the first two books in the series. But the formula is starting to get a little bit tiring, which is perhaps the reason why Flanagan switched to writing The Brotherband Chronicles after book twelve (also, there’s a moment in this book where Flanagan clearly took inspiration when writing the Brotherband Chronicles). As a stand-alone, it’s better than most of the Part 1’s in the series, but not as good as any of the Part 2’s or the other stand-alone, Erak’s Ransom (which is still my favorite of them all). I still enjoy the adventures of Horace, Will, Halt and Company, but ten books (or twelve, in this case) is a good time to start wrapping up a series or thinking of something new.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“What’s this Kurokuma business?”

The Senshi looked at [Horace] with a completely straight face.

“It’s a term of great respect,” he said. Several others within earshot nodded confirmation. They too managed to remain straight-faced. It was a skill the Nihon-Jan had perfected.

“Great respect,” one of them echoed. Horace studied them all carefully. Nobody was smiling. But he knew by now that that meant nothing with the Nihon-Jan. He sensed there was a joke that he was missing, but he couldn’t think of a way to find out what it might be. Best maintain his dignity, he thought.

“Well, I should think so,” he told them, and rode on.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2eSpv7w