The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia (republished title The Knights of Crystallia), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Scrivener’s Bones.

When Alcatraz and Grandpa Smedry make a pilgrimage to the Free Kingdom city of Crystallia, the Smedry home base, Alcatraz is shocked to see that he is a legend. When he was a baby, he was stolen by the Evil Librarians—and his mother, a Librarian herself, was behind it. Now, with his estranged father, who is acting strange; his best friend, Bastille, who has been stripped of her armor just when they need a good knight; and Grandpa Smedry, who is, as always, late to everything, Alcatraz tries to save a city under siege. From whom? Why, the Librarians, of course! And, in particular, an especially evil Evil Librarian who has followed the Smedrys to Crystallia in hopes of shattering the city: Alcatraz’s very own mother!

Rating: 2/5

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia is as fun-filled and crazy as the first two books. Sanderson continues to build up the mystery and suspense by revealing things in small increments and hinting at bigger mysteries to come. Knowing Sanderson, everything will come to a whiz-bang finish and all the foreshadowing will make sense—after things get worse, as Alcatraz-the-narrator states in the book.

Overarching-plot-wise, I don’t really have too much negative to say. Sanderson is clearly setting things up in this book, introducing new faces and new mysteries for our heroes to solve. I know some of what is coming, so I can also tell he’s weaving in lots of foreshadowing and clues.

However, while I don’t have much to say about his plot technique, I do have quite a bit to say about the way he chose to develop it. Frankly, I found Knights of Crystallia too short of a book—the main conflict began and ended quickly, the pace was all over the place, and after reading it, I set it down and thought, “Wow, I feel like this was a waste of a book.” Even with all the plot building he’s doing in this book, it still feels like it is twenty pages long rather than almost two hundred, or at least, it feels as if the important parts only encompass twenty pages.

The book is clearly a bridge between plot points, a way to have the characters advance in knowledge without revealing too much at once. It’s too short, yet oddly long for what little happens. It’s stuffed with filler, even more filler than what the Alcatraz series is known for. There’s also no satisfying moment to make the book seem worthwhile. And the annoyance is that the book has to be read to understand some plot points; it’s not skippable, yet it begs to be skipped.

The Knights of Crystallia is basically a paradox. Too short, yet too long. Too important, yet not important enough. The whole novel is a plot device to bring the characters to a certain point, something that would take too long to do if entwined with more plot. I love Sanderson, but this book was difficult to get through.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“So…what does this have to do with me?” I asked.

“Everything, lad, everything!” Grandpa Smedry pointed at me. “We’re Smedrys. When we gave up our kingdom, we took an oath to watch over all of the Free Kingdoms. We’re the guardians of civilization!”

“But wouldn’t it be good I the kings make peace with the Librarians?”

Sing looked pained. “Alcatraz, to do so, they would give up Mokia, my homeland!”

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

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Love Thy Neighbor by Ann Turner

Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, by Ann Turner, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.

In Greenmarsh, Massachusetts, in 1774, thirteen-year-old Prudence keeps a diary of the troubles she and her family face as Tories surrounded by American patriots at the start of the American Revolution.

Rating: 2/5

Love Thy Neighbor retells the tension between the colonies and England leading up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War—from the point of view of a Tory family. It’s a little bit like recounting the Civil War from a Confederate standpoint—it’s not something you see often and it takes a little getting used to.

The book, like many other of the Dear America books, has more substance as a narrative historical account than as a story with a plot. There’s a bit of one, but mostly Turner is concerned with showing the tension between Tory and Patriot as neighbor turns against neighbor rather than developing her characters. Prudence is definitely merely an onlooker, a vehicle to show certain attitudes, and nothing more.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that I had forgotten about Christmas being outlawed by the Puritans, and this book reminded me of that. That ideology takes centerstage in the novel, as Prudence and her family secretly decorate for and celebrate Christmas and get attacked as “papist.” It’s something that I don’t think a lot of people know—or a lot of people would like to forget, maybe—and in the research I did afterward, it really wasn’t until the 19th century that Christmas really took hold in America.

Love Thy Neighbor seems weak to me, not only because of the lack of a strong character presence, but also because it seemed to me that Turner didn’t have as much research to lean on as some other D.A. books do. I understand that this is a children’s book and footnotes or endnotes are not really things that appear in those, but I really would have liked to have seen some of her research on some of the things she mentioned in the historical/author’s note at the end. It’s probably my least favorite Dear America book I’ve read so far.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

In school today, Abigail did not even return my greeting. When we left Mrs. Hall’s house, I asked if I had done anything to offend her. She choked out, “Papa says we Patriots must stick together,” and ran away. Again.

I would not cry. I took a deep breath, grabbed Verity’s hand, and marched home to tell Mama. She was very kind and made strong cups of tea to cheer us.

I fear it will take more than tea to do that.

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

The Shepherd of Weeds by Susannah Appelbaum

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2011 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Tasters Guild.

Back in the Kingdom of Caux after her journey to its sisterland, Ivy wakes up in a dismal orphanage alongside her friend Rue. Accompanied by a strange woman named Lumpen—who looks suspiciously like a scarecrow—the girls make their way back to Templar to plan a massive battle against the Tasters Guild, where Vidal Verjouce is making ink out of the deadly Scourge Bracken weed. Rocamadour grows darker and more dangerous with every drop. With an army of scarecrows, a legion of birds, and her friends and uncle by her side, it’s up to Ivy—the true “Shepherd of Weeds”—to wage war against the Guild, defeat her own father, and restore order to the plant world. Susannah Appelbaum’s imagination soars in this stunning and utterly satisfying final volume of the Poisons of Caux trilogy.

Rating: 2/5

I’m semi-glad that I finished The Poisons of Caux trilogy, if only because I’m a completionist at heart and I like seeing story lines wrap up—plus, if I’ve invested in the first two books, I may as well read the third, no matter how I felt about the first two (a la the trainwreck The Selection).

I did enjoy seeing all the characters unite together to defeat the Big Bad(s), and I liked the slight twist at the end in the hierarchy of villainy. Each hero got his or her own little moment to shine, even the ones whose loyalties were in question until that moment. Everything was wrapped up quite neatly—more neatly than I expected, considering the sloppy ending of The Hollow Bettle.

However, my main complaint of the story is still the jumping around, the darting from scene to scene and filling in the gaps later. I’m still unsure as to why the novel started the way it did, or how Ivy got in that situation. I’m still not sure how Lumpen ended up in the city, and then in the catacombs. Characters jump around from place to place with almost no explanation as to how they got there. Ivy leaves one city before her uncle and flies to another, only to ask if her uncle has arrived—as if she expected him to magically be able to travel faster than her. Also, characters end one scene doing one thing, and then, when we catch up to them again, they are doing something completely different. Is Dumbcane at the city wall with Clothilde, or is he in the Tasters Guild making ink? Apparently he travels between both in mere minutes, being able to do Clothilde’s bidding at one scene and then sneak up on Rowan in the next one.

The Shepherd of Weeds, and the trilogy in general, is a creative fantasy, which I like, and has some interesting characters, but the whole thing is such a mish-mash of time jumps, strange characterization, and at times sloppy plot, that though I was compelled enough to finish the trilogy, I also didn’t much enjoy myself at the very end. The cover art is quite eye-catching, though, which is what drew me to the books in the first place, and I liked the use of different color ink in the books. Appelbaum is creative, but the story was a mess.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Where did you get this?” Her voice cracked.

“Dumbkin,” Lumpen Gorse confirmed. “That scoundrel paid me with it the first time he came scrounging around.”

“Hemsen Dumbcane gave you this?” Ivy asked sharply. She knew the scribe’s troves of valuable parchments were stolen from ancient, magical texts. “Are there others?”

“Lumpen Gorse shrugged.

“I’ve got to go—” Ivy was suddenly, overwhelmingly worried about the safety of her stones. “I need to show this to my uncle.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2F3Atj5

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2012 by Harper.

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and incites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land. Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mór rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Rating: 2/5

I kind of have this love-hate relationship with Sarah Prineas. On the one hand, I love her Magic Thief series. On the other hand, her fairy-tale retellings (like Ash & Bramble) have been somewhat disappointing. Winterling falls a little bit in the middle for me, or perhaps, if you go by the rating that I gave it, much further away from even Ash & Bramble.

One reason is that I’m simply not a fan of the genre of this novel. I don’t like reading fantasies involving fairies, or animal-human hybrids/melds/whatever, or really any sort of “portal” fantasy involving fairy-type lands. That’s part of the reason I had difficulty really enjoying The Evil Wizard Smallbone, because of the human-animal transformations going on. I can’t really say why I dislike this genre. I just don’t like it.

(Mild spoilers follow)

I’m also not a fan of the protagonist-type that Fer is. Fer does some really dumb things in this novel, and the dumbest ones are when she knows that the Mór is evil and is planning evil things, yet somehow thinks going along with her is a good idea. Part of that is the magic talking, but there’s a part towards the end when Fer has more or less thrown off the glamorie and still thinks, “Well, you know, I need to bring back the spring and the Mór says doing this will bring back the spring, so I should do what she says,” despite the fact that she knows the Mór is not helping things at all. Then we get this tiresome hunt scene (which is immediately followed by two others) only for Fer to figure out what she’s known all along.

Fer also makes some astounding leaps of logic, like when she reads her father’s letter again and goes from that to immediately knowing that the Mór is a usurper. That whole “revelation” paragraph was written so clumsily that I had to read it multiple times just to try and follow Fer’s logic (which was really her realizing what the reader has known all along, but with a rather impressive logical assumption that doesn’t seem to follow from what she knows).

Basically, I didn’t really like Fer in general. I rarely like female protagonists of her sort. Perhaps they’re perfect for younger readers, but I find them annoying.

There’s also no explanation as to where Grand-Jane got all her knowledge of the other world from. Presumably her son, I suppose, though it’s poorly explained if so.

To be honest, the whole reason I didn’t really enjoy Winterling is probably because of Fer. I simply found her irritating. That, and I don’t particularly like this genre of fantasy. I like Prineas as an author, but this trilogy of hers is definitely not for me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“The Way is open,” he said. He meant it as a warning.

The old woman blinked, and then scowled. “You must close it again.”

He shrugged, feeling the sharp ache of the wolf bites. “I can’t.” He nodded at the girl, still kneeling on the rug. “It opened for her, not for me,” he said. “You know as well as I do what she is.”

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

Eve of the Morn by Idazle Hunter

Disclaimer: Eve of the Morn, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. All opinions are my own.

Run…That is the only thought that can cross Ammira’s mind. One would think that a Princess would never want to leave her castle, but they have never experienced what life is like with King Corsan, the polar opposite of his brother, the late King Richon. Enter into the kingdom of Cahal, where danger lurks around every corner and even friendly strangers may be hiding a dark secret. Spending too much time in a single place can prove deadly. There is only one thing left to do: Run!

My rating: 2/5

I’m back with the sequel to Dawn of the Night, which once again the lovely Idazle Hunter provided me. I’m surprised I’m still alive after my review of the first book, but here I am to talk about the second one, Eve of the Morn.

Eve is a vast improvement over Dawn; the grammar is better (though still too many awkward turns of phrase), the story is more understandable (though I’m still confused about the mysterious Calvin), and it’s much more tight and focused in plot than the all-over-the-place plot in Dawn. There’s still loads of improvement that could happen, but the quality of the book as a whole is noticeably better than Dawn.

That being said, the book is really long and the pace is agonizingly slow. That might be due to the fact that there isn’t a clear conflict, despite all the running from the king. The problem is that Ammira runs away, gets caught, runs away, get caught, and runs away so many times that everything blurs together. It gets slightly more interesting at the end, when giant snake shadow Luke shows up and starts possessing people—I’m assuming he’s the same being that possessed Paul in the first book, or perhaps a similar being—but by then it feels slightly out of the blue. Not to mention all the mysterious characters whose names begin with “C.” There’s Calvin, who shows up for a hot minute and then leaves, and then there’s Christian, who is the type of character who is mysterious, but you’re also not really sure yet of what they’re supposed to represent (beyond the obvious Pilgrim’s Progress symbol) or what their purpose is beyond being mysterious and super-hero-y.

The characters are still full of dramatic exclamations and contraction-less sentences (which makes some conversations sound really stilted and awkward, and also unintentionally funny). Ammira is a more likeable hero than Paul of the first book, though she doesn’t really do too much in the story as a whole beyond running away again and again. Corsan is supposed to be evil, but he’s more melodramatically cartoonish (dialogue again), plus a great mustache-twirler of a villain.

Eve of the Morn improves on many of Dawn of the Night’s faults, but also shows room for lots more improvement in terms of pacing, descriptions, dialogue, and characterization. It still reads a little too much like a NaNoWriMo novel and not enough like a polished work, but I can see a hope for polish in the future.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2ASb1ii

Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.

Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?

Rating: 2/5

Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.

I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.

I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.

Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.

As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.

“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2nja7oG

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

Disclaimer: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Note: No back cover summary on this review, as the publisher prefers that reviewers not post it.

My rating: 2/5 

I’ve never experienced a book that started out mildly interesting and then quickly devolved into incredibly annoying quite like The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. It started out a little bit intriguing and humorous, and then, right around the time Sarah ran into her pastor and fell in insta-love with the “lean, muscular” (of course, because they all are, because apparently that’s the only body type that exists) perfect man, it quickly became frustrating.

I appreciate that Turner is willing to address some things more openly than other Christian novels have done, but the amount of cringing I did while reading this book because of the ridiculous amount of attention spent on attraction and intimacy is more than I’ve ever cringed before. It’s almost the only thing they talk about, oftentimes in cheesy, cringe-worthy ways, and the whole relationship comes across as more of a physical attraction than anything else.

To add to the ridiculous amount of time spent on talking about sex (not explicitly, of course, but way more than I’m used to a Christian novel addressing it—again, props to Turner, but perhaps a more less in-your-face approach would have been better), we have the perfect pastor and perfect man Ben, of the “lean and muscular” build, who is flawless, always says the right things, and is about as interesting as my left shoe. Then we have the melodramatic plot, complete with “who’s the father of my baby?” drama, that ends with Ben being completely unconcerned that the church he’s pastoring is going under, leaving its congregation to find new places of worship, an event that’s literally almost shrugged off by the characters, when in real life something like that would be slightly more devastating, or at least difficult to adjust to.

Did I mention that all Ben and Sarah talk about are how much they want to get married so they can get around to having babies? And you might be thinking I’m exaggerating, and I am, a little, but they literally spend pages talking about it.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck has insta-love (my least favorite), the typical Christian-fiction love interest (lean, muscular, perfect, always says the right things), dialogue and conversation topics that would have been refreshing if they hadn’t been so prevalent and blunt (Christian fiction tends to avoid intimate language; Turner has way too much), and a plot that’s melodramatic and cliché. If Turner had been more original in her characters and in her plot, I think the book would have been vastly improved.

Warnings: Sex is mentioned a lot. Nothing explicit or necessarily in poor taste, though.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

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

Why I Believe by Chip Ingram

Disclaimer: Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity, by Chip Ingram, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Responding to the perception that Christians are prejudiced, anti-intellectual, and bigoted has become a greater challenge than ever before. The result is often intimidation, withdrawal, and even doubts among God’s people about what we really believe. Chip Ingram wants to change that. In Why I Believe, he gives compelling answers to questions about

  • the resurrection of Christ

  • the evidence of an afterlife

  • the accuracy and intellectual feasibility of the Bible

  • the debate between creation and evolution

  • the historicity of Jesus

  • and more

His solid, biblical, logical answers will satisfy the honest doubts that every believer experiences, and will provide thoughtful arguments for those who are struggling with their faith, are curious about Christianity, or who honestly want to follow Jesus without checking their brains at the door.

My rating: 2/5 

I struggled for a long time as to what rating to give this book.

Finally, I decided to rate it how I normally rate books, which is roughly 40% related to the content of the book and 60% related to how I feel about the book while reading it.

Why I Believe’s content is great, for the most part. Ingram discusses basic reasons for the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, and the reliability of the Bible, while also briefly touching on the creation/evolution debate. It’s incredibly condensed, which I feel is a pity, because he only dedicates a few paragraphs to each point, whereas whole books can be, and have been, written about each of those points. As a result, it seems a little rushed. Ingram is hitting the highlights, but there’s not a lot of meat to the book.

I do wonder if this book adds anything to the apologetics table. It rehashes common apologetic arguments, arguments that have whole books dedicated to them as I mentioned above, and contributes nothing new or foundational. Ingram does make the book a little more personal, but it’s less of a “let me tell you my story” and more of an “I’m going to give you these points and then also give you a sermon.” As an intellectual, rational person, those parts of the books didn’t appeal to me. The juxtaposition between “here’s the evidence” and “here’s the sermon” was jarring, as well.

Why I Believe may appeal to people who want a more personal, sermon-y feel to a basic apologetics book, but it treads no new ground and condenses everything so much that it’s shockingly shallow in depth. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone interested in apologetics. I’d go with classics such as The Case for Christ or Mere Christianity instead, which deal with the subject much better.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian

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

The Delusion by Laura Gallier

Disclaimer: The Delusion, by Laura Gallier, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

By March of Owen Edmonds’s senior year, eleven students at Masonville High School have committed suicide. Amid the media frenzy and chaos, Owen tries to remain levelheaded—until he endures his own near-death experience and wakes to a distressing new reality: the people around him suddenly appear to be shackled and enslaved. Owen frantically seeks a cure for what he thinks are crazed hallucinations, but his delusions become even more sinister. An army of hideous, towering beings, unseen by anyone but Owen, are preying on his girlfriend and classmates, provoking them to self-destruction. Owen eventually arrives at a mind-bending conclusion: he’s not imagining the evil—everyone else is blind to its reality. He must warn and rescue those he loves…but this proves to be no simple mission. Will be h able to convince anyone to believe him before it’s too late?

My rating: 2/5 

I realized something while reading The Delusion. I realized that I really don’t like books that try to get metaphorical about Christian ideas/theology, because a lot of the time the metaphors are wildly inaccurate and/or downright silly.

The Delusion, which is a little bit like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in its spiritual warfare plot, relies heavily on metaphors as it sets up this world where monstrous gray oozing creatures feed off of people and incite them to do bad things. Besides reminding me of Peretti, the book also reminded me of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which also has descriptions of people being chained by shackles they can’t see.

I understand the premise of the story, or at least the premise Gallier is going for: there’s more going on in the material world than what we can see. Yet, the way Gallier presents it, with gray monsters and tall golden warriors (angels, I suppose), makes it seem more like some disturbing alternate reality. I’m not going to deny that the supernatural exists, but I find it difficult to believe that it looks anything like what Gallier describes it as.

“But, wait, you’re missing the point,” you might say. “It’s not meant to describe reality. It’s meant to be a metaphor, a way to describe things.” True, and I get that. But I balk at the point Gallier seems to be going for here, which is that evil is caused by possession, not human choice; that people are compelled to do bad things because some gray monster squelched into their body and took over their mind.

Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. Yes, I know Gallier is simply personifying emotion and doesn’t necessarily mean to indicate that humans are forced to do evil by demons, and if it was their choice they wouldn’t do it.

But I think it’s a clumsy metaphor.

Or, I simply don’t like this sort of book and my dislike of the genre is rubbing off on Gallier’s presentation.

In any case, The Delusion is mildly gripping and definitely creepy, which is good for the genre it is. I didn’t like the metaphorical mess that Gallier created, though, and most of the characters were so bland and one-dimensional that I’m struggling to even remember their names. Also, I found some of the scenarios unbelievable, and not the metaphor part, like when Owen gets beaten and then walks away like he had just been punched a couple of times. The Delusion was definitely not my type of book, but I can see it appealing to people who like this sort of supernatural thing.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xVxlG4

2003 Newbery Medal: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi, was published in 2002 by Hyperion.

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

Rating: 2/5

I wasn’t all that impressed by Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It has a rich historical background, which lends itself well to the Newbery, but Crispin himself is an annoying protagonist and the plot is incredibly obvious. Bear was also a confusing character, in that the first moment we meet him he seems kind, then devolves into some sort of cruel master the next moment, then turns into a gruff man with a soft heart.

Avi clearly did his research with the setting, depicting the Middle Ages with particular emphasis on the influence of the Church as well as the feudal system and the call for reform. Perhaps that’s why I’m so disappointed at the plot, which seems clumsy and even a little obtuse. It’s a fine fit for the setting, I suppose, but the mechanics themselves are obvious, to the point where fifty pages in I already knew what was going to happen.

I also didn’t much like Crispin, especially towards the end of the book where he consistently refuses to listen to the adults around him and goes sneaking off three times in succession. The third time actually had me speaking out loud to my book, which is almost never a good sign (“Stop it, Crispin!”). I really don’t like rash protagonists. I suppose he’s a teenage boy, so of course he would do rash things, but that doesn’t make me like him any better.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead has that historical background that seems to attract Newbery Medals, but I wasn’t impressed with the plot or the main character.  I actually didn’t mind Crispin at first, but once things started getting moving and he started doing really stupid things, I started getting annoyed. I also very quickly figured out the entire plot, due to the limited possibilities and obvious clues. Unlike another one of Avi’s books, I’m not fond of this one.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Asta’s son,” came Aycliffe’s voice, “in the name of Lord Furnival, you’re herewith charged with theft. Give way.”

I was too stunned to move.

“The boy’s a wolf’s head!” the steward shouted. “Slay him if you can.”

From either side, men ran forward.

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