I always have the best of intentions about reviewing all my Cybils books as I read them – but I’m still behind. Here are a couple more middle grade fantasy books from my December reading, both sequels in beloved series.
The Forgotten Sisters. Princess Academy Book 3 by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury, 2015.
Miri is finally going to return to Mount Eskel after the eventful year told about in book 2 of the series, Palace of Stone. Then, the country is under threat of war from a much larger neighboring kingdom. As a last-ditch effort to make peace through a diplomatic marriage, Miri is sent to start a princess academy for three wild cousins who have been raised in a far-away swamp. Miri has extra incentive to do this as the king’s advisor wants to sell the rights to Mount Eskel’s stone to merchants, taking away the recently won rights to living wages for Mount Eskel’s workers. Once in the swamp, though, Miri realizes just how desperate the situation is: she’s coming in looking like a privileged rich girl, and the girls she’s supposed to be teaching are too busy foraging for food to have time to learn anything. Before Miri can begin, she’ll have to figure out where the allowance and the mail that the girls are supposed to be getting has been going… On the downside, most of the familiar characters from the first two books aren’t here, but the flip side is that the story stands quite nicely on its own. The ending is not quite believable, but highly satisfying – another story of girls winning through perseverance, brains and diplomacy.
Nomad by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015.
I loved, loved, loved the first book in this duology, Ambassador, though it did have a very abrupt, cliffhanger ending. The sequel opens not with the previous main character, 12-year-old Gabe, but with the 1970s ambassador to the universe, Nadia, a Russian Jew. She risked huge amounts to try to figure out how the enemy that’s still threatening the Earth in Gabe’s time, the Outlast, can travel so quickly through space, getting stranded and losing her sight in the process. Gabe is able to meet her, still his age, when the Kaen ambassador takes him to meet her government. This second book is even more space travel and learning about the different space cultures. Gabe’s deported father is mostly at the back of Gabe’s mind, and it isn’t until the very end of the book that Gabe is able to think of a way to save him. The only real problem I have with these books is that they split somewhat awkwardly into two – the first with more action and equal focus on Gabe’s family and his life as an ambassador, the second introducing Nadia (also a very interesting character) and having not much to say about Gabe’s family. I would have appreciated getting to know Nadia in the first book, and hearing more of Gabe’s family earlier on the second book as I was very anxious about them. However, it’s still a very strong story, with deep thinky-thoughts on what it means to be an “alien” – is Gabe’s father, in the US illegally, somewhat by accident? Is a non-human race from another planet? How should we treat aliens of either type? My mother found the ending highly problematic, and I’d appreciate hearing thoughts on this from others who have read the book! But these thoughts are embedded in an exciting plot with well-drawn characters and equally fun, more theoretical thoughts on space travel. I do highly recommend the books, especially read together.