It is the word peddler's job to entice readers to 'buy' his or her wares; and the fantasy writer wants the reader to buy into an entire world that he or she has freshly constructed. One way wordsmiths can pave the road to their other world kingdoms and other-time domains is by grounding those places in the reader's reality. The authors of these five books under review build on what the reader hears, sees, smells, touches and tastes to assemble worlds of words that seem magically alive.
She was still musing over the strange ways of humans when the wind shifted, and a familiar dank odor blew past. Bryony spun around, her hand dropping to the metal knife she carried at her belt. He's back, she thought--and that was all she had time for before the crow swooped down and knocked her to the ground.
In Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, new author R. J. Anderson completely surrounds the readers with smells, tastes, sights and tactile descriptions to lure them into Oakenwyld, home of a dying race of fairies. After the first few slow-moving chapters, readers are entranced and easily able to see the action through a seven-inch-high faery point of view. Readers 'fly off' into adventure with the fiesty, young hero Knife to fight crows and find out what is wrong with the ailing, almost magic-less Oakenfolk.
Hatched from her egg as Bryony, the teen faery has matured into the Queen's spirited Hunter known as Knife. In her rebellious years, she questions their quiet, dying life apart from humans in the oak tree. A diary discloses that faery and human interaction was not always forbidden. Knife asks her mentors sharp questions as she develops a romantic friendship with a young human with a disability. She is led on a quest to explore her burgeoning creativity and emotions, and in so doing, to find herself and help her people. The deep love story between the shape-changing faery and the hot young man who uses a wheelchair makes me recommend this book for ages twelve and up.
"I can do it," said Timothy, "I just don't want to do it." "Please?" Mr. Shen spoke quietly and yet his voice pierced the room.
When author Adrienne Kress wants her characters to make a point, she turns down the volume so that readers pay attention and really 'listen' to what the characters say. Mr. Shen appears as an old man, but he is actually a thousand-year-old Eastern dragon who needs stubborn and sassy 11-year-old Timothy to do him a favour. Shen softly, yet strongly, asks Timothy to help him, and so the pair set off on a journey to China with the hope of having a curse lifted.
From a slow beginning, the pace catapults into a danger-fraught frenzy as Tim faces different enemies. Among them is Emily Bearclaw, an expertly-trained ninja, who has the trick of getting her message across ... even when she is whispering in the ear of Headmaster Doosy from whom she wishes to extract information. Emily hails from Saskatchewan--one of the information bits that Kress's chatty narrative voice includes to amuse readers. There is not much extra room for sensual description in a story that zooms around in taxi cabs, eighteen-wheelers, helicopters, and planes--the setting is 'on the go.' Even pirate ships turn up as Alex, the ten-and-a-half-year old girl from Kress's first novel, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, sails into Timothy's life to help him prove that risk-taking and child power can save the day. Timothy also learns that despite mouthing "whatever" as his stock answer to questions, he does care about things--including Mr. Shen the dragon.
The first thing Norl became aware of was the smell. It was all he could do not to choke on it, but he managed to control the need.
Norl regains consciousness in the lair of the fearful dragon, Caulda. Powerful Caulda had extracted Norl's promise to return to her in Karleen Bradford's previous book about the world of Taun. As Dragonmaster opens, Norl is frustrated that his studies of magic seem useless, so he leaves his mentor the Seer Catryn and sets out to fulfill his promise. Shockingly, Caulda does not kill Norl, but informs him that she is dying and that he will care for her "child." Also surprisingly, Norl determines that he will help the baby dragon. Little does Norl know he will battle evil with the new dragon! His other companions are a creature known as Sele the Plump and Taun's last dragonling. Hhana is a halfhuman, half-dragon creature whose nearly extinct race used to keep the peace between dragons and humans. At present, it seems an imbalance needs to be righted so that dragons, dragonlings and humans will band together to destroy the black forces poisoning Taun's life-giving water. Will Norl find his own magic in time?
The plot of expert storyteller Karleen Bradford flies straight and true like an arrow, from beginning to triumphant end. Readers will seek out Bradford's other titles about Taun, a world that is so real it may be whirling somewhere in our own galaxy.
Is this it? the boy thinks to himself. Have they finally reached the edge of the world? He shifts uncomfortably under the blankets he has heaped on top of himself and tries to sleep, but it is so cold that the hairs in his nostrils stick together, stitched shut.
Thus readers' senses are put on high alert in The Story of Cirrus Flux, where in 1756 they sail with young orphan James Flux through cold climes to the edge of the known world. James miraculously traps a strange light known as "The Breath of God" in a terrella, a small globe kept around his neck. The story weaves interestingly and manageably between James's life and that of his son Cirrus who, during the absence of his travelling father, has been raised in an orphanage. When, one day, he leaves the foul-smelling Foundling Hospital to go out into the London streets, he is pursued by enemies who believe Cirrus has his father's special amulet.
The enemies are quite literally 'mad' scientists. Matthew Skelton has done a superior job of portraying the amazing period of the 1780s, when the explorations of empirical science bordered on magical findings and sometimes, charlatanism. Reality and fantasy spin delightfully through the pages. Readers meet Madame Ossery, a mesmerist with a voice "like a locket opening" who provokes 'healing' trances while her assistant plays the mystical-sounding glass harmonica. Also in pursuit are Mr. Leechcraft, a showman scientist' who electrifies boys in publicly performed spectacles; and Mr. Sidereal, who has great lenses planted around London so he can keep an 'eye' on its pulsating streets. Yet another character claiming to be a friend, a strange man accompanied by a flaming bird, sails through the skies into the lives of Cirrus and his fellow orphan, Pandora. Who will reach Cirrus first?
The plot purrs along like a well-oiled piece of machinery. This is Skelton's second book after his acclaimed Endymion Spring. Readers will impatiently await a third book, although, a work so fully written and researched might take time to write.
"You are deformed. You are ugly. But remember this day, Modo. It's the day you learned that you've been given an incredible gift. Your unsightly countenance may seem unbearable now, but because of it, the world will always underestimate you."
The Hunchback Assignments is the first book in award-winning author Arthur Slade's new series. Five-year-old Modo was snacking on bread and honey with his governess when his guardian-keeper, Mr. Socrates, forces the lad to look in a mirror at his deformed face. While Socrates informs Modo that this unsightliness may be an advantage, he is also very pleased that Modo has the gift of being able to change his face to temporarily resemble anyone he wishes. Perhaps that is why the mysterious Mr. Socrates has kept the boy since he discovered him as a toddler, educating and training him for a purpose that is slowly revealed to readers. With seeming cruelty, Socrates abandons the teenaged Modo on the streets of London, where his path becomes intertwined with the beautiful orphan, Octavia Milkweed. He learns that they are both spies for The Permanent Association, a secret organization that is out to squelch the evil forces of the Clockwork Guild. These evil scientists have in their employ, Doctor Cornelius Hyde, whose personality-changing tinctures and body-part-replacing experiments are being practised on both adults and children!
Readers who aren't afraid of having nightmares will burn the midnight oil to finish this engrossing story. While terrifying in some ways, there is also a lightness to the work that readers will appreciate. I suspect Slade had fun playing with the literary stereotypes--Mr. Hyde and (Quasi)Modo--and dusting off little known Victorian facts about steam power, gadgets and gizmos.
Books like those by Slade, Skelton and Anderson make us curious about the social, cultural and mythical history of our world. Kress hints that we should look carefully into the ninja-concealing shadows of the world around us, while Bradford coaxes us to look for new worlds. Fantasy, in all its forms, stimulates readers to expand their boundaries real and imagined.
the Dragon's Gate
written by Adrienne Kress
Scholastic Canada, 2009
978-0-545-99042-4 (hc) $19.99
for Grades 4 to 7
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter
written by R.J. Anderson
HarperCollins Canada, 2009
978-0-06-155474-2 (hc) $19.99
for Grades 7 and up
written by Karleen Bradford
HarperTrophy Canada, 2009
978-1-55468-072-6 (pb) $14.99
for Grades 6 to 10
The Story of Cirrus Flux
written by Matthew Skelton
Puffin Books Canada, 2009
978-0-141-32037-3 (pb) $14.00
for Grades 3 to 7
reviewed from uncorrected proof
The Hunchback Assignments
written by Arthur Slade
HarperTrophy Canada, 2009
978-1-55468-354-3 (hc) $18.99
for Grades 7 and up
reviewed from uncorrected proof
lian goodall is a children's book reviewer and author who lives in Prince Edward County.