Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy Series Starters

Here are some shorter musings reviews of several first books in new MG fantasy series that started this year. Ummm....most of them I'm not too excited about-two I outright hated.

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

The Blood Guard will certainly have a vast amount of kid appeal, and I can see why. It is fast-paced, adventure packed, has both male and female protagonists, and a lot of twists that are going to take child readers by surprise. There wasn't much in it that set it apart from a lot of series starters I've read lately. It has a very video game type feel to it. There is quite a bit of violence, but none of it really matters because of plot twists. There is a dehumanizing factor to that I didn't like personally. Also the whole concept of the novel had me rolling my eyes quite a bit. 36 "pure" people who are just deep down good hearted and don't know it keep the world in balance and God from destroying it? What even. ETA: The what even is that this is based on the Tzadikim Nistarim-a belief that comes from the Kabbalah. It is actually a part of a mythology then and wasn't just reached arbitrarily. Good to know, but I really wish it had been expanded a bit more. The way it was thrown in there had me so skeptical and unable to buy the world-bulding at all. 

Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen
I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening. 

Sky Raiders by Brandom Mull
This is the beginning of a new series by Brandon Mull who is particularly good at cranking out series sure to entertain MG students everywhere. This one kicks off to a particularly dark beginning. A group of 5th-7th graders kidnapped en masse and sold into harsh slavery in a world not their own is some serious stuff. That sense of peril never lessens making it hard to put down. The world building is interesting, and I like all the main characters. Mull has another good one on his hands with this. 

The Thickety by J.A. White
When I first read this, I had several issues with it, most of which I don't care to get into. After discussing the book with a friend, I realized I had overlooked a MAJOR issue that I don't have any trouble getting into. This is why I love the book and blogging community. Because discussions with friends help me find strengths in books I had not previously seen, and they also open my eyes to my own privilege and how I could allow a serious issue to slide by without commenting. The villain in this story is a girl born with a disability, a disability that she uses to manipulate other and be generally mean, spiteful, and specifically plot awful things toward the protagonist. While her environment can be blamed for how she turned out, the way she is portrayed ties her disability too closely to the evil machinations of her mind. Also, the word "cripple" is used to describe her, which is not acceptable in anyway. 
Do I understand that evil and cruel intentions are something that people with disabilities can have? Of course! I'm not naive. However, kids with disabilities see themselves so little in books as it is. When they do have the opportunity to see themselves in a book, do we want them to see themselves as the villain? That is worse than them being the sympathetic sidekick (looking at another popular MG book from this year). We need more books like [book:Handbook for Dragon Slayers|13624404] where these kids get to see themselves as the heroes. 
This combined with the issues I already had means I can't endorse this book in any way. Upon further thinking of the book, I've also decided that the writing isn't of the quality enough to save it from it's weaknesses. 


  1. I wonder if the "pure people" in The Blood Guard might have been inspired by the Jewish tradition of the Tzadikim Nistarim ("hidden righteous ones")?

    And I also had issues with The Thickety! I could barely make it past the opening torture scene.

    1. Thanks Anamaria! I had no idea that was even a thing. I know next to nothing about Jewish mysticism so thanks for informing me. It is nice to know that there was a basis for that beyond a "hey what if..." meeting and a dart thrown at a random number. I will add your info to the review. Just out of curiosity, do you happen to know if there is a belief that these same 36 are continuously reincarnated? That's part of this too. I think it would be really interesting to have a novel based on this mythology that fleshed it out more and showed its derivation. This book epically failed at that as it just had me blinking in confusion and leaving unable to buy into the world-building at all.

    2. Thanks Brandy! I'm not well-informed on the subject either, but your description of the 36 rang a bell. Definitely agree that if the Jewish tradition was the inspiration, there needs to be some context for it!