The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

The Sorcerer of the North, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Battle for Skandia.

Several years have passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, led the Skandians to victory against invaders, and Will is finally a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy—boring, even—until Lord Syron, master of a castle far in the north, is struck down by a mysterious illness. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is suddenly thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure, investigating fears of sorcery and trying to determine who is loyal to Lord Syron…and who is planning to betray him. Will and Alyss must battle growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time. Lord Syron is fading, but when Alyss is taken hostage, Will is forced to make a desperate choice between loyalty to his mission and loyalty to his friend.

Rating: 3/5

The Sorcerer of the North, like The Icebound Land, is another Part 1 of 2 novel in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, taking place several years after The Battle for Skandia. However, I think that it’s a better Part 1 than The Icebound Land is. It has more mystery, more suspense, and, frankly, has much less “I’m stretching this plot to fit a whole book” moments.

I had actually forgotten about one of the major twists in this story, and so I got to experience it fresh all over again—and it really is quite a good twist. It seems inevitable after it’s over, but Flanagan manages to imbibe the moment with enough shock and tension that you go with the moment rather than think, “Oh, right, of course that would happen.”

The Sorcerer of the North is also interesting in that since the first two books, magic hasn’t been mentioned. Ranger’s Apprentice seems like such a realistic world (even in its fantasy elements) that magic doesn’t seem to have a place. Then along comes a book like this one, and raises all sorts of questions, such as “Is there actually magic or is it just sleight of hand and trickery?” I like the ambiguous nature of the magical aspect of the books and thought it was incorporated well in this one.

The Sorcerer of the North is clearly just the first part of a two-part story, where the second part promises to be even bigger and better, but it lacks the stiltedness and slow pace of The Icebound Land and contains a great deal of mystery and suspense to help hook the reader into the next book. It’s not perfect, but at this point, these books really don’t need to be.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“It’s not for us to say what it is. But there are strange goings-on. Strange sights.”

“Particularly in Grimsdell Wood,” said a tall farmer and, once more, others agreed. “Strange sights, and sounds—unearthly sounds they are. They’d chill your blood. I’ve heard them once and that’s enough for me.”

It seemed that once their initial reluctance was overcome, people wanted to discuss the subject, as if it held a fascination for them that they wanted to share.

“What sort of things do you see?” Will asked.

“Lights, mainly—little balls of colored light that move through the threes. And dark shapes. Shapes that move just outside your vision’s range.”

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Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?

My rating: 3/5

Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.

However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.

But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.

Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian

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The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

The Icebound Land, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Burning Bridge.

Kidnapped and taken to a frozen land after the fierce battle with Lord Morgarath, Will and Evanlyn are bound for Skandia as captives aboard a fearsome wolfship. Halt has sworn to rescue his young apprentice, and he will do anything to keep his promise—even defy his King. Expelled from the Rangers he has served so loyally, Halt is joined by Will’s friend Horace as he travels toward Skandia. On their way, they are challenged again and again by freelance knights—but Horace knows a thing or two about combat. Soon his skills begin to attract the attention of knights and warlords for miles around. But will he and halt be in time to rescue Will from a horrific life of slavery?

Rating: 3/5

The Icebound Land steps away from its focus on Will slightly, but only in the sense that Will is not one of the third-person narrators. The story switches between the two groups of Halt and Horace and Evanlyn and Will, with both Horace and Will taking a bit of a backseat (Will moreso, with very good reason). It’s great to have Halt as a narrator, because even with Flanagan’s occasionally stilted or over-the-top writing, Halt is wonderfully snarky and incredibly awesome. He also takes care of one of the antagonists in an incredibly anticlimactic matter which only underscores his awesomeness.

This book is really only the first part of a plot that will continue in the next book, and towards the end Flanagan throws in some hints as to what is to come. It’s actually quite light on plot, overall, which is probably why Flanagan threw in Halt and Horace as viewpoint characters and gave them some enemies to face—it adds to the book and Evanlyn and Will’s plot is depressing enough that the book needs the humor that the Halt and Horace plot brings.

However, the fact that The Icebound Land is only Part 1 of 2 really shows, and not a lot happens in the book at all. Halt and Horace’s adventure is fluff and not necessary or important to their characters at all, while Evanlyn and Will’s adventure is entirely necessary, but so short that it could not possibly sustain the novel on its own. Flanagan combining the two helps it out a little, but not completely. The Icebound Land reads like the prologue to a bigger story, and not at all reads like it’s complete in itself, if that makes sense. I don’t want to say it feels unfinished, but it definitely feels a little unsatisfying when it ends and you’re left with a feeling of irresolution.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“We must answer his demand. Are you sure you’re not taking on too much?” the Ranger said. “After all, he is a fully qualified knight.”

“Well…yes,” said Horace awkwardly. He didn’t want Halt to think he was boasting. “But he’s not actually very good, is he?”

“Isn’t he?” Halt asked sarcastically.

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The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz, was published in 2014 by Tor.

Young Archie Dent knows there really are monsters in the world. His parents are members of the secret Septemberist Society, whose job it is to protect humanity from hideous giants called the Mangleborn. Trapped in underground prisons for a thousand years, the giant monsters have been all but forgotten—until now. Evil genius Thomas Alva Edison and his experiments in the forbidden science of electricity have awakened Malacar Ahasherat, the Swarm Queen, in the swamps of Florida. When the monster brainwashes Archie’s parents and the rest of the Septemberists, it is up to Archie and his loyal Tik Tok servant, Mr. Rivets, to assemble a team of seven young heroes to save the world: the League of Seven.

Rating: 3/5

The League of Seven takes place in an alternate, steampunk America with a healthy dose of fantasy/horror elements thrown in as well. The worldbuilding is good; things are explained at their own pace yet the development never seems too fast or too slow. Some of the stranger things are handwaved a little, such as Fergus’s circuits, but overall it’s a rich world, with plenty of room for expansion in the following books.

The characters and plot are pretty good, too. I loved the twist involving the roles of the League of Seven and how it made the book deviate from the norm for this type of plot. I loved Hachi’s circus and Hachi, Fergus, and Archie are pretty good characters and mesh well together as a group. Sometimes group mechanics can be rushed, but this one was developed realistically, I thought.

However, despite all the praise I’ve given the book, The League of Seven just wasn’t particularly exciting enough for me. It was good, yes, but some of the writing and just the overall pace and development of the book made it trudge on in places that should have been exciting. I liked almost everything about the book, but the excitement level itself was not there for me. I didn’t find myself eager to rush out and get the next book. Instead, I’m left with an “Eh, I might get the next book if I remember” and that’s not really a good thought with which to leave a book. I can’t even pin down what, exactly, made it so difficult for me to enjoy The League of Seven. I suppose it just comes down to the things that I like in stories, and this book lacked some of those.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade

Archie crept closer and closer to where the insects poured over the wall, then peeked over.

The abyss was covered with an enormous stone, like a lid. No, two stones: half circles that met in the middle, each with a huge letter X on it. XX. It was a door. A seal. An old one, with cracks in the stone. That’s wehre the bugs were going. They wiggled and pushed and scrunched odwn through the cracks to whatever was below.

THOOM. The ground trembled. Was it an earthquake?

THOOM. Dust and rubble shook loose from the ceiling.

THOOM. The stone seal on the wall shuddered, knocking insects onto their backs.

There was something inside the well. Underneath the stone seals.

Something trying to get out.

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The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

The Burning Bridge, by John Flanagan, was published in 2005 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Ruins of Gorlan.

For years, the Kingdom of Araluen has prospered, with the evil Lord Morgarath safely behind the impassable mountains. For years, its people have felt secure. But the scheming hand of the dark lord has not been idle… On special mission for the Rangers, Will and his friend Horace, an apprentice knight, travel to a neighboring village and discover the unsettling truth: All the villagers have been either slain or captured. But for what purpose? Could it be that Morgarath has finally devised a plan to bring his legions over the supposedly insurmountable pass? If so, the king’s army is in imminent danger of being crushed in a fierce ambush. And Will and Horace are the only ones who can help them.

The Burning Bridge loses some of the supernatural, tropeish vibes that The Ruins of Gorlan contained and gains some of the things the Ranger’s Apprentice series is known for: detailed descriptions of fighting, underdogs, and wit. Flanagan loves the underdog and he writes underdogs well. One of my favorite things about this series is the immense amount of “thinking outside of the box” that the characters display at critical times. There’s also a fair bit of “let’s successfully use this thing I just learned in new ways to become even cooler” but not so much here as in future books. The fighting descriptions never get old, either; sometimes detailed descriptions such as the ones in this book can make a fight feel mechanical or as if you’re inputting directions for a video game or something, but Flanagan somehow makes everything flow as well as describe one heck of a fight, at least for me.

The Wargals are just as groan-inducing as they were in the first book, but at least Flanagan tries to show more of what exactly they are (and, later, does away with things like that entirely) and how they operate. Morgarath is also fleshed out a little bit, although he’s so obviously “dark magic evil lord” when he appears that it’s hard to take seriously. The other characters, however, are great, and even prodigy Horace has enough flaws to make him not-so-perfect. Flanagan does a good job of making sure his talented teenage protagonists screw up and make mistakes like, well, teenagers.

I do think the first two books are the weakest in the series, but The Burning Bridge does a lot to back off of what I thought was a shamefully bad fantasy vibe in The Ruins of Gorlan and shows even more of what I love about the Ranger’s Apprentice series, which is its attention to detail, the crazy things the characters have to overcome and what they accomplish, and its fantastic wit and humor.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I was more interested in the life the Rangers led. After Hackham Heath, my father and halt had become good friends and Halt used to come visiting. I’d see him come and go. So mysterious. So adventurous. I started to think what it might be like to come and go as you please. To live in the forests. People know so little about Rangers, it seemed like the most exciting thing in the world to me.”

Horace looked doubtful. “I’ve always been a little scared of Halt,” he said. “I used to think he was some kind of sorcerer.”

Will snorted in disbelief. “Halt? A sorcerer?” he said. “He’s nothing of the kind!”

Horace looked at him, pained once again. “But you used to think the same thing!” he said.

“Well…I suppose so. But I was only a kid then.”

“So was I!” replied Horace, with devastating logic.

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Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.” Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity…before all of the children vanish one by one. Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

Rating: 3/5

I’ve heard some good things about Serafina and the Black Cloak but sadly I wasn’t particularly thrilled by it. I liked Serafina well enough, though I’m not much of a fan of “wild girl” character types. The other characters weren’t bad either, although the villain was too obvious (but very creepy and suitably villainous).

To be honest, it was mostly the oddity of the plot that put me off the novel. I was rolling with it up until some really clunky writing during the coach scene (where Beatty insinuated something sinister about Mr. Crankshod and then never followed up on it, unless the point was to throw a red herring into the mix). Then Serafina runs into the forest and meets a mountain lion and that’s where the book completely lost me. That’s where it got a tad too “this is completely unbelievable” for me to handle. And I understand that the things that are revealed afterward are supposed to make some of the earlier things make more sense, but at that point I was already too far gone to be brought back by some resolution.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. The characters were good. I just wasn’t grabbed by it. It was good in places, but overall I found Serafina and the Black Cloak confusing, strange, and a little too hard for me to swallow. Perhaps part of that is how the plot reveals were handled (clumsily). I might read the sequel, I might not. Serafina and the Black Cloak is a book that only certain people would love, I think, and I wasn’t one of those.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I’m not going to hurt you, child…” came the hideous rasping voice again, as if the man wasn’t of his own mind but possessed by a demented, ravenous demon. The folds of the cloak cast a wretched pall over her, drenching her in a dripping, suffocating sickness. She felt her soul slipping away from her—not just slipping, but being yanked, being extracted. Death was so near that she could see its blackness with her own eyes and she could hear the screams of the children who had gone before her.

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The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, was published in 2016 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Copper Gauntlet.

Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world. But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer…and risk their own lives in the process. As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm—unless it is stopped in time.

Rating: 3/5

The Bronze Key continues the tradition of the Magisterium books failing to impress me, although I will acknowledge that Black and Clare did some gutsy things with their characters in this one. It’s too bad the villain was a complete washout and tremendously obvious, but Aaron, Call, and Tamara had some interesting things happen to them which reminded me of some of the more interesting plot twists in The Iron Trial. The problem is that I don’t feel as if Black and Clare know how to adequately handle those plot twists. I definitely feel a disconnect between the world and what I know about it, as if there’s something that the authors didn’t explain or didn’t explain well enough.

For example, are we supposed to expect these books to take place within the course of a year? The Copper Gauntlet did not feel that way, and neither does The Bronze Key. The fact that there are no celebrations of holidays doesn’t help, either. I think part of the reason the books feel a little disjointed to me is that there is so much time missing between the books; The Bronze Key takes place only over a couple of months, but is the next book, presumably about the fourth year, going to skip a whole ten months? That’s what it felt like going into this book, that a few months had been skipped between The Copper Gauntlet and The Bronze Key. That’s not always a bad thing, but it just seems a little sloppy to me, as if the plot can’t keep up with the world and so there’s all this missing time that makes everything seem disconnected.

However, despite all my complaints and comments about its mediocrity, the one thing The Bronze Key did well was make me want to know what happens next. Everything happened pretty quickly and there are still some aspects of the ending that I’m not sure of (did the teachers already know that Call was Constantine, or did they think Alma was lying until Call confirmed it? If they already knew, why lock him up now? If they didn’t, why was there even the feeling they did already know, which smacks of bad writing?), but it did intrigue me to the point where I’ll probably pick up the next book. And let’s face, I’m already three books in—I’m too invested in the series to stop now. Which I suppose means that the Magisterium can’t be all that bad if it keeps me reading.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The door opened; there were footsteps. Call whirled, but it wasn’t Celia standing there. It was Tamara and Aaron.

“What are you doing in the Trophy Room?” Tamara asked, frowning. “Are you okay?”

Aaron looked around, puzzled. “Are you hiding in here?”

Call was entirely sure that nothing like this—being stood up and humiliated—had ever happened to Aaron. He was doubly sure nothing like this had happened to Tamara.

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“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket

“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”.

“I should have asked the question ‘How could someone who was missing be in two places at once?’ Instead, I asked the wrong question — four wrong questions, more or less. This is the account of the second.” In the fading town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, young apprentice Lemony Snicket has a new case to solve when he and his chaperone are hired to find a missing girl. Is the girl a runaway? Or was she kidnapped? Was she seen last at the grocery store? Or could she have stopped at the diner? Is it really any of your business? These are All The Wrong Questions.

Rating: 3/5

“When Did You See Her Last?” is a surprisingly delightful little mystery—after the problems I had with “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” I was expecting the worst. But this second “Wrong Question” was not nearly so jarring as the first book, possibly because I was already prepared. I still think these are not nearly so memorable or as subtly brilliant as A Series of Unfortunate Events, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Lemony Snicket (or Daniel Handler) is good at absurdist humor and makes an absurd world (mostly) work.

For once, I didn’t really question the incompetence of all adults in this book—I think I’ve finally accepted that in Lemony Snicket world, children are the people who get things done and adults are either villainous, incompetent, useless, or plot devices.

I’m very curious to see if Beatrice makes an appearance (or Olaf!), if we find out what Kit was stealing in the museum (the sugar bowl, possibly?), and if these books will turn more towards “let’s reveal lots about VFD” rather than just have VFD as the shadowy organization where you never find out what it’s about or what it wants. And to be honest, I kind of hope it keeps up the mystery of VFD because it fits better with this series than it did with ASOUE. Probably because these books are much more film noir.

Also, it took me far too long to realize that “Partial Foods” was a play on “Whole Foods.”

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Children’s

Hungry’s was a small and narrow place, and a large and wide woman was standing just inside the doors, polishing the counter with a rag.

“Good afternoon,” she said.

I said the same thing.

“I’m hungry,” she said.

“Well, you’re probably in the right place.”

She gave me a frown and a menu. “No, I mean I’m Hungry. It’s my name. Hungry Hix. I own this place. Are you hungry?”

“No,” I said. “You are.”

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The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan, was published in 2005 by Philomel.

They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers with their dark cloaks and mysterious ways. Folks in the village claim that Rangers have the power to become invisible at will. A skill Will would now dearly love to have. Will’s heart had been set on Battleschool, on becoming a hero to the kingdom. But Will is small for his fifteen years, too small to be a warrior. He possesses other skills, though—a Ranger’s skills. He can move silent as a shadow. He can climb. And he is brave. He will need all these skills and more. For Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces. A battle for the kingdom is destined to begin. A battle the likes of which Will cannot even imagine.

Rating: 3/5

I first stumbled across the Ranger’s Apprentice series a few years ago. I’m not sure what caused me to start reading them; the pull towards the word “apprentice,” perhaps, or the vaguely appealing summary. Whatever it was, I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan—and fell headfirst into the world of Will and of the Rangers.

The world of Ranger’s Apprentice is an alternate universe, of sorts, to ours: Araluen is England, Gallica is France, Skandia is Scandinavia. Having more recently read the Brotherband series (the companion series to Ranger’s Apprentice), I’d forgotten how supernatural/vaguely eerie these first couple of books are. The Ruins of Gorlan starts with a shadowy evil lord moody over the loss of his kingdom and wanting revenge, dives immediately into descriptions of “Wargals” (groan) that bring up bad memories of Eragon and other LotR-imitations, and basically starts in a basic “bad fantasy” way.

And then Will comes into the picture, and Horace, and Halt, and incredibly precise and detailed maneuvers and fights are described, and suddenly not only do you realize that, holy smokes, John Flanagan knows his stuff, but you’ve forgotten the bad fantasy vibes and are only swept up in a “give me more of this awesomely intricate way of sneaking up on someone” feeling.

At least, that’s my experience with The Ruins of Gorlan.

The best part is that the books only get better from here, and I’m looking forward to seeing that improvement. The Ruins of Gorlan is a good start—but there’s a little too much of that bad fantasy vibe attached to it for it to be fantastic. But that’s okay, because then the series has the opportunity to sneak up on you just like a Ranger would. Suddenly, without warning, and being incredibly awesome.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Will coughed again.

“Got a cold, boy?” asked the Ranger, without turning around.

“Er…no, sir.”

“Then why are you coughing?” asked Halt, turning around to face him. Will hesitated. “Well, sir,” he began uncertainly, “I just wanted to ask you…what does a Ranger actually do?”

“He doesn’t ask pointless questions, boy!” said Halt. “He keeps his eyes and ears open and he looks and listens and eventually, if he hasn’t got too much cotton wool between his ears, he learns!”

“Oh,” said Will. “I see.” He didn’t, and even though he realized that this was probably no time to ask more questions, he couldn’t help himself, repeating, a little rebelliously, “I just wondered what Rangers do, is all.”

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Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Wildwood Dancing.

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult. But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret. Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her.

Rating: 3/5

Cybele’s Secret is not as strong or as beautiful as Wildwood Dancing, but I enjoyed it anyway, especially towards the end with the traverse through the cave solving riddles a la Indiana Jones. Paula is a great bookish, scholarly main character, and if the writing is a little stilted in places, that can easily be explained as Marillier capturing the character of Paula through the narration.

Cybele’s Secret is about as obvious as Wildwood Dancing was (so, very obvious), and I knew who the main villain was the second s/he appeared. Everything was just slightly too convenient and I waited about half of the book for the other shoe to drop until, finally, it did, just as I had predicted. The villain was also a little one-note and aloof, so that was a little disappointing, but at least by the time the villain was revealed I was too invested in the characters and the story to grumble much.

There’s also a love triangle, but to be honest, the third side of the triangle is so faint that it’s not really a love triangle at all. It’s more of a “there’s two men during Paula’s adventure that she can potentially hook up with so so we’ll call it a love triangle,” but Paula doesn’t waver between the two of them as with other love triangles. It’s very clear who Paula will end up marrying, and if the angst and heartache at the end is slightly contrived, the reunion between the two is still very sweet and touching.

I did prefer Wildwood Dancing, but Cybele’s Secret has its moments. The quests and riddles in the cave, the descriptions of Istanbul that make it come alive, and Paula’s sensible character all come together to make the book an enjoyable read, if one with an obvious villain and plot.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

A fragment caught my eye. I lifted it out with extreme care, for it was ancient and fragile. The script was ornate and regular. I guessed the language was Persian, for one or two such pieces had passed through Father’s hands over the years, and I recognized the style of decoration: tiny, vivid illustrations and elaborate hand-drawn borders full of scrolls and curlicues. The pictures were indeed strange. It was not clear whether the figures in them were of men, women, or animals. They reminded me vividly of the Other Kingdom, the fairy realm my sisters and I had visited every full moon through the years of my childhood. While my sisters were dancing, I had spent the better part of those nights in company with a group of most unusual scholars, and they had taught me to look beyond the obvious. Eithers these were images of just such a magical place, or they were heavy in symbolism. I could see a warrior with the head of a dog, a cat in a hooded cloak, a blindfolded women with a wolf, someone swinging on a rope…

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