On with the Cybils reading… this time, I have three sequels, all books whose earlier entries were also Cybils nominees.
Copper Gauntlet. Magisterium Book 2. by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Penguin Random House, 2015.
Callum Hunt is home for the summer following his first year at the Magesterium (described in The Iron Trial.) But his father’s objections to him learning to use his magic have only grown stronger, and he’s especially unfond of Callum’s pet chaos wolf, Havoc. Things are awkward to start with, but when Callum discovers a secret hidden in the basement, he no longer trusts his father at all. Even as he’s increasingly relying on his friends in a world where dangers are increasing on every side, he still isn’t able to tell them that he is himself the evil overlord. This knowledge, delivered at the end of the last book, seemed like it was going to be crushing. And it is – but it’s also fodder for humor through the story, as Call makes lists in his head of things that he does that are or aren’t evil overlord-worthy – mostly trying for not evil overlord, but occasionally deciding the situation calls for it. I’d been somewhat ambivalent about the first book, because of the evil overlord business and because it felt so very derivative. Now the story is coming into its own, both the characters and the world developing well. I enjoyed this one lots. And I’m happy to say that after I decided that it was far too gruesome for my 6-year-old to listen in on, my 11-year-old (who listened to the first with me), is now reading it on his own, making good progress and enjoying it. That’s very high praise coming from a kid who never chooses to read prose fiction in print.
Hollow Boy. Lockwood & Co. 3 by Jonathan Stroud. Read by Emily Bevan. Listening Library, 2015.
Back to the world where the spirits of the dead are back with a vengeance, and only kids can see them to defeat them. In book 3 of the series, we start off knowing that something bad is going to happen to Lockwood & Co. As Lucy describes a recent case where she, Lockwood, and George took on a house with multiple hauntings, she says that she didn’t know how good she had it until it was over. Certainly one negative factor is the addition of polished new employee Holly Munro, who sets Lucy on edge. Lucy’s talent for listening to ghosts is also developing – sometimes helping her solve the case at hand, but also putting her in danger as she must lower her defense. She wants to develop it more; Lockwood is against it. Meanwhile, the hauntings Lockwood & Co. is called to work on get bigger and more dangerous than ever. The Screaming Staircase won the Cybils award for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction in 2013, and The Whispering Skull was nominated last year. I could see why that book won – but I fell in love with this one. (I’m sure Emily Bevan’s reading helped with this, her voice accented with just the right mix of London and English Country.) I cried at the end and am so looking forward to the next book. Write faster, Jonathan Stroud!
Nightborn. Thrones and Bones Book 2 by Lou Anders. Crown Books, 2015.
Board games come to life with dangerous results in this second Norse-inspired fantasy, following last year’s Frostborn. Our hero, Karn, hasn’t seen his best friend, the half-giant Thianna, in months, when his peaceful farm life is turned upside-down. There are dangerous-looking dark elves looking for him. When he runs away from them, he is snatched by a wyvern, who takes him back to the dragon Orm. It turns out that the dangerous magical horn that Orm destroyed in the last book was not the only one. Thianna went off looking for another one, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, and hasn’t come back. Karn is really full of pity for whoever might be trying to keep Thianna a captive – but he’s certainly not going to stand by without trying to help her. Part of the story is told from the point of view of Desstra, one of the dark elves trying to find the horn. She failed to graduate from the Dark Elf academy because she wasn’t ruthless enough, and struggles between her old dreams of graduating with honors and seeing first-hand some benefits of mercy and friendship as she watches Karn and Thianna. Although I wish that Desstra wasn’t the sole sympathetic member of an entire species, I did appreciate both her journey and the fact that the Dark Elves, living in the dark, had milky pale skin, while the wood elves had skin a range of woody browns. The board game behind this book is Charioteers, inspired by the race track of the Hippodrome. This series is so much fun, with good characters, cinematic adventures, and sparkling wordplay. I will keep reading this series, as well as recommending it to Rick Riordan fans in search of mythology-inspired adventure.