We’re having a small frolic in Middle-Grade territory today! I’m quite fond of a good heartwarming (and hopefully funny) middle grade adventure. But I’m a little hard to impress since I grew up on classics like Lemony Snicket and Katherine Paterson. SO. I didn’t adore these two fantastical adventures…but it might be more me than the books.
Therefore, if they intrigue you, go read them.
\\ Thank you to Hachette and HarperCollins for the review-copies! //
FERALS: THE CROW TALKER by Jacob Grey
This book is decidedly feral. Oh, HA AH AH HAHAHAA. You knew I was going to say that, right?! RIGHT? Okay, fine, just ignore me. But do not fear! An actual useful review is also in order. To sum it up in a gulp: It was a magical, feathery adventure, without too much logic, but with a lot of mystery and adventure.
REASONS I’M TWITCHY:
- The characters don’t have that pizzaz and spunk I really love when reading MG books. No one is funny or has any crucially relatable aspects, which I think is important for an MG.
- Everyone is kind of stinky. Like homelessness has it’s lures (freedom! no parents! no rules! live in a tree!) but, dude, I’m sure this kid hasn’t washed in 12 years.
- The book hinges on Caw forgetting his past. He was 5 when his parents died/disappeared (he doesn’t know) and he went to live with crows. 5 isn’t that young! How did he just forget everything?? Even his name? How did he forget his name? How did he even SURVIVE? He ate like 2 crusts during this book, sheesh. Kids need more food than that…
- It’s not very unique. Orphans, magical animals, stupid grownups, best-friend-is-a-smart-awesome-girl…any of that sound different? Nope.
- Also there’s this one moment when Caw claims his 16…He’s like an underfed 12 year old, so I really don’t see how he pulled that off. Also there’s the question of why Lydia’s parents, provided they believed Caw is 16, let their 12 year old daughter hang out with him?! Like WHAT. Ew. And no.
REASONS I THINK IT’S STILL GREAT:
- Lydia. She’s the best-friend and she is just fabulous. I want her for a best friend. Even though her parents basically sanitise their hands just from looking at Caw, Lydia has an absolutely gorgeous personality and doesn’t care about outward appearances at all. Bless this girl. Give her a cookie.
- Magic, because, you know — IT’S COOL. The “ferals” are people who can talk to animals, but only their kind of animals. Caw is a Crow talker. (Obviously, did you read his name?) He meets Crumb, who’s a Pigeon Feral (super tough, there) and Pip who is a Mouse Feral (the names give nothing away, truly). And Mamba was an evil snake feral. It’s nearly dorky, but kind of cute.
- Caw, despite being entirely stinky, had a heart of gold. So that’s commendable.
- People die. It’s not graphic/gruesome, and definitely just said instead of gone into details…but, if I’d read this when I was 12, I would’ve been very impressed. I was that kind of 12-year-old, I know. Shush.
It’s not exactly a timeless tale, but totally enjoyable! You know those middle-grade books that can shout through the ages? Yeah, not this one. BUT! It was still fun! I’m an adult reader, yes, but I’m a huge MG fan. I think, though, that this particular bookly specimen would be better appreciated by 12 year olds.
ZARKORA: THE FYRELIT TRAGEDY by Nicholas and Alison Lochel
I, unfortunately, am not this book’s biggest fan. But hey! I’m a tough reader and very widely read. I think if you were, like, 12 and hadn’t swallowed too much epic fantasy and were looking for an adventure that had EVERYTHING in it — this’d be your book.
Seriously it has everything.
- Lost swords
- Brothers who rescue their kidnapped sister
- Lost kingdoms
- Lost princes
- A trio of unlikely heroes (1 boy + 1 boy + 1 girl = perfect combination, apparently)
- Oh, and Hagrid
Why didn’t the book work for me? Like I said, it was cliche and I’ve seen it all before…and I always, personally, believe every book CAN and SHOULD bring some new twist to the table. This was predictable from beginning to end. It seemed to have an “MG Epic Fantasy Checklist” and as just ticking them all off.
The narrator was Neleik and his little brother was Ervine. Neleik was “Mister Responsible, Serious, and Ultimately Awesome” with no sense of humour. Ervine was the comedic relief. That’s all he’s good for. And you think their names are weird?! How about “Versalos” or “Romahn” or “Devyn” or “Kyia” or “T’Shink” or “Lytharin” or “Gorlith” or “Asylgul“??!! SOMEONE HELP ME. I DROWNED. I couldn’t find any patterns or cultural vibes except for cliche fantasy names that no one can pronounce. Heck, I like it when people are called Bob.
The writing? I was a little miffed at the amount of unnecessary purple prose (this is a kids book!!) and the lack of character focus. It was all about the action, not the characters. Which saddens me. Characters are important! You can get away with a lot of issues in a book if the characters rock.
Maybe I’m too old?! True. That is an excellent point. But I do like that CS Lewis quotes that says “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” And I’m a huge fan of The Ruins of Gorlan and How to Train Your Dragon and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. SO YEAH. I felt the quality wasn’t terrific of this one.
But HEY. At least it doesn’t skimp on the action and adventure! And it’s written by a brother/sister Australian (!) duo and the sister was only 14 when she started writing it. So that is remarkably commendable. Although it’s pitched as the next Rangers Apprentice, which baffle me because one would be better off reading the snortingly hilarious RA series. And the main character is WILL which is so delightful on the tongue. I have no idea in the world of holy sanity how to even pronounce Neleik. CAN I CALL HIM NELLY? I’m gonna call him Nelly.