The Accidental Keyhand. Ninja Librarians Book 1. by Jen Swann Downey. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014.
Dorrie and Marcus, two stage sword-fighting siblings from Passaic, New Jersey, are chasing their friend’s pet mongoose through the local public library when they find themselves sucked through dimensions to Petrarch’s library. This turns out to be a magical library with doors to many different “wherens” (where and whens), through which trained Lybrarians travel to preserve threatened books and authors. This life sounds like a dream come true to action-and book-loving Dorrie, and teenaged Marcus has fallen in love with a beautiful apprentice and also wants to stay. But they are treated with suspicion because they arrived in highly unorthodox fashion through the roof rather than a door, and there are other things that make it look like they are connected with the enemies of the Library.
I loved the concept of the secret society working to prevent censorship, and Petrarch’s Library is filled with interesting historical characters (indexed in the back), including Hypatia and Cyrano de Bergerac. Dorrie is a character that reminds me pretty strongly of my own tween self. And yet somehow despite having so many elements that I love, this didn’t quite gel into a book that I loved. I found my mind wandering off in the middle and wasn’t entirely satisfied by the ending. The concept is cool enough, though, that I might try the second book to see if it pulls together a little more.
Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. Walden Pond Press, 2014
This is the third book in the series – I read The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom when it first came out, skipped The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle and then read this one because it’s nominated for the Cybils in my category. In this entry, our friends in the League of Princes have been outlawed in all the kingdoms for the murder of Briar Rose, following Prince Liam and Princess Briar Rose’s divorce. The League will have to clear their own names by finding out the real murders, all while avoiding the bounty hunters on their trail and various other bad guys. Often separated from each other, the women form their own group – the Furious Female Fighters, or ffff for short. It’s more fast action with plenty of slapstick humor as our heroes work against bards and other villains to save all the kingdoms again.
Once again, there are a lot of elements to the story that I liked. It is laugh-out-loud funny, with the humor in action, dialogue and pictures. The combination of action and humor is one that keeps kids, especially boys, riveted. I love fairy tale retellings, and it’s fun to see the characters from different fairy tales interacting like this. This one even has pirates! It’s less fractured than the first book, since we know the characters already and they’re not off having adventures one at a time. In this book, too, the women are every bit as competent as the men, though they don’t all excel at fighting. I really appreciated not having the girls relegated to the sidelines just because it’s a book for boys. But it felt like with so many characters, all deliberately caricatured, they never felt real enough for me to believe in any of them. I’m also frustrated by the length of the books – 516 pages is an intimidating length for average to reluctant readers, even though the books otherwise have lots of appeal for kids like that. Still, if you’re lucky enough to be looking for books for an eager reader who isn’t as concerned with well-rounded characters as I am, this is a fine choice.