I’m trying to make a practice every year of reviewing a few items that are not part of the larger published cannon of things. Pieces by independent puI’m trying to make a practice every year of reviewing a few items that are not part of the larger published cannon of things. Pieces by independent publishers and authors–things that probably don’t garner near as much attention or publicity. While sometimes I’d love to devote lots of time to supporting these folks, the truth is my reading schedule is tight and my time is limited, so I’m forced to pick and choose and select a few things to highlight.
Such here is the work of Mr. Robert Kent. Mr. Kent has created a work that reads a bit like Sherlock Holmes meets Sci Fi pulp meets Richie Rich in this near future middle grade science fiction adventure.
Ellicott Skullworth is bright enough that he’s been selected to attend one of the most prestigious schools around–with a full scholarship. In order to attend said school, however, he’ll be living with his illustrious cousin, Banneker Bones. Ellicott’s never even met Banneker before, and the luxurious, high-tech world of the Bones’ lifestyle is a far cry from his working class home and upbringing. It all might seem like a dream come true–except for Banneker himself. This quirky genius has no patience or interest in his cousin and might just actively be trying to get rid of him. Not that Banneker is exactly the bee knees when it comes to friendship–this arrogant and idiosyncratic individual tends to find it difficult to get or keep any sort of friend. But things begin to change when Banneker and Ellicott encounter real-life giant robot bees. These gigantic robots not only seem to have it in for the boys, but they fly off with Ellicott’s friend Reggie! Ellicott’s determined to rescue his friend, and Banneker dreams of being lauded as a hero. Now the two will have to work together with a variety of high tech gadgets in their search for Reggie and the mysterious bees. But what they uncover may have far more serious repercussions than merely a missing friend!
For those who enjoy futuristic gadgets like rocket packs, holographic gaming, and all sorts of robots, this is chock full of just those sorts of things. Banneker makes for a very Holmes-like character to follow, mainly self-interested, incredibly bright but with no filter on what he says, and not quite comfortable with regular human interaction. It lands on Ellicott to stick by his cousin (in true Watson-like fashion) and help him through the dangers and mysteries that lie ahead. The author gives readers a very satisfying sort of adventure story–one that surely hints at more stories of Ellicott and Banneker to follow.
The story does take a bit of time to get up to speed–the early chapters prior to Ellicott’s arrival at the Bones’ household feel like an unnecessary bit of padding. Since the story and action don’t really take off until Ellicott meets Banneker, these chapters may discourage more reluctant readers from reading far enough to really get into the story. The time spent on Ellicott’s old school, his mother, and his father may be a very valid attempt at giving us Ellicott’s background, but it comes off as rather separate from the rest of the story. I think the details we needed about Ellicott could have been introduced withing the narrative without relying on this early part. That said, the rest is highly entertaining and interesting story that dives into its subject matter with passion and enthusiasm.
What is it that makes a person a hero? In classic literature you rarely had to guess. The heroes were set out before you to defeat the challenges and villains before them. Beowulf, Arthur . . . these ancient heroes of old and the evils they fight are still familiar, still inform our culture. And they reappear in our stories, sometimes mere glimmers but still recognizable in form and action. Even in the small town of Taper, Florida.
Charlie Mack has just moved to this town by the Everglades, where boys chase rabbits through the burning cane and the muck of the swamp runs deep and dark with history. Both his father and his stepfather have their roots in this town, and Charlie is just beginning to understand how that inheritance affect him and touches on his relationships with others in the town. But there is more than football and burning cane in Taper. There are the chalk mounds, and the strange monstrous things in the night that rise from the muck and haunt the cane fields. They are the Gren . . . and they are hungry. Heroes will be called upon to risk their lives in the battle between good and evil once again.
As a fan of Beowulf, it’s a bit of literary delight to have N. D. Wilson weave that old story into this contemporary fantasy adventure. Those familiar with the classic will swiftly recognize the references here–though a reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the Old English epic to read the book. Charlie is set to play the main protagonist in this story, to take on the age-old fight in the muck and discover its secrets. He isn’t the only hero in this story–men and boys bound by blood, history and determination will all have their parts to play before the story is done.
It’s a marvelous story that manages to combine richness and brevity. A landscape that is easy to visualize in language that invites all the senses to experience the deep muck, the burning cane. Added to the wild imagery is the more mundane: the small town politics and histories, the rivalry of football. Our characters are not far distant heroes, but boys and men who live in reality, but are willing to step beyond that reality to fight the old fights. Our characters live with flaws and troubled pasts, but we’re told that even those who’ve made many mistakes have some good in them. Then there’s the cane . . . the muck . . . the zombies. The dangerous and hungry force waiting to break free and devour the town. Somehow N.D. Wilson manages to mix it all together into a satisfying whole that reads with the swiftness of the boys running. Oh, and in case I forget, this is one more fantasy for the year with a multicultural cast–so good to see a sizable number of them this year, I can only hope it continues!
While there are some female characters here, this essentially a “boy” story–though I think any avid reader could enjoy reading it. It’s an interesting counterpoint to an earlier fantasy from this year; Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Both books feature a young protagonist in a new place . . . one where strange forces of evil are at work. Both books have their protagonist slated to play the role of hero against the looming evil. In each story our young heroes are seeking to protect and rescue friends and family, and ultimately to be the saviors from a dangerous evil that seeks to reach out over the unknowing modern world. While for Ophelia, it’s a story of sterile ice and snow, of clean and glamour-ridden evil, in Boys of Blur it’s the muck, the sweat and blood and death. The dirt and life within it. These two books form a sort of yin-yang, male/female expression the hero’s journey.
I will admit that when I first heard mention of zombies in connection with this book it almost made me tuck it at the bottom of my reading pile. I’m glad I didn’t. These aren’t your typical zombies and the book is seriously worth a few undead monsters. It’s delicious reading that had me going through it in gulps and sprints. The writing is strong and vibrant–and rich as the landscape itself. Mind you, it is a dark adventure tale–so those readers who tend to avoid monster stories and creepy stuff may not be fans. This is a small town horror story, a boy’s adventure tale, an epic heroic fantasy, a tale of redemption, humanity and hope. It’s a great ride and going on my book shelf to share with the next reader I can hand it to!...more
The last time I encountered a story that used the legend of Prince Madoc as inspiration for the story, it was A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. Apparently, it was a popular legend in the Colonial days. The story goes that long before Columbus ”discovered” America, a Welsh prince came to the shores of North America with some of his people. Rumors of Native Americans speaking Welsh and a lost kingdom of Welshmen fueled all sorts of searches and offers of reward for their discovery. Though in our reality, nothing ever came of the wild story, writers have taken the threads of the legend to inspire their own fantastic stories. Matthew J. Kirby takes his readers into a an alternate Colonial America where the threat of the French and Indian war is looming and a remarkable group of men have devised a plan . . .
Billy Bartram is about to undertake the adventure of a lifetime. His father, naturalist John Bertram and the renowned Benjamin Franklin are anxious that the French are ready to make their move and threaten the British colonies. In order to get the jump on the French and try and secure allies against the threat, a singular group of men from the Philosopher’s Society will embark on a flying ship in search of a legend. Billy can scarcely believe his luck at being included in the mission as his father’s assistant, but things don’t go quite as imagined for the intrepid explorers. Dangerous wildlife, violent storms and the whims of the crew make a risky journey into a deadly one, while the French are closing in. Kirby’s story is one of adventure, myth and fantasy woven into the backdrop of actual history.
Kirby isn’t shy about rewriting whole parts of the U.S. history for this story. While we meet characters of historical context (most notably Ben Franklin and Washington) many of the inventions and the frontier creatures that our explorers meet are not consistent with that historical period. The author has made good use of a variety of myths, from the Philosopher’s Stone, to the Fountain of Youth and paired this with wild legends of a Welsh kingdom in the frontier lands. Kirby’s landscape is reminiscent of the Frontier Magic series by Patricia Wrede, but without the slower pacing, quieter action and extra detail. While the setting is critical to the story and its outcome, the author’s main focus is his characters and the interactions between them.
Billy is our protagonist in this tale, and it is his journey, both physical and emotional, that readers are meant to follow. At the outset of our story, Billy is in utter awe of his father and has no doubt he wants to be like him. But as the journey gets underway, our hero quickly discovers sides to his father that he had not expected . . . and areas where they don’t agree. The changing interaction between Billy and his father is one of the main plot arcs in the novel. Where the alternate history and steampunk styled inventions might not be familiar to middle grade readers, Billy’s struggle to come to grips with who he is and how that differs from his parent will be one most kids can latch on to and identify with in some part. The other crew members on our flying ship are also vividly imagined, and complex individuals with conflicting motives and interests. My one disappointment in the character building has to remain with the single female character that is present in this story. I don’t believe I’m spoiling much by mentioning young Jane, since she’s clearly pictured on the cover of the book. Jane’s character never seems to fully take shape in the story and there is at least one glaring moment where her ineptitude puts the entire mission at risk. It may be I was more bothered by this than a younger reader would be, but my overall feeling is that Jane is used to conveniently forward the plot and give our character a friend of similar age without giving her enough of her own personality.
This book moves forward at a fairly fast clip that keeps us moving from crisis to crisis in fairly short order. While my adult self does tend to prefer a more leisurely pace for storytelling and events, this may work well for younger readers who prefer the constant action. The breathless adventure with its historical fantasy flavor manages to pack quite a punch for such a short book. Obviously there’s more than a little “steampunk” to this story (it’s more good evidence that steampunk has made its way firmly into the middle grade fiction) the flying ship on the cover of the book, the explorations of electricity, the creative weapons and inventions of our philosopher crew. The author clearly feels at home with the genre and is willing to explore it, with quite delightful results. I was thoroughly entertained . Reader’s who enjoyed the Matthew Kirby’s The Clockwork Three (2010) and Icefall (2011) should definitely check this one out....more
A delightful bit of pulp fun. Such a pleasure to read after slogging through a few urban fantasies that took themselves too seriously and "cerebral" SA delightful bit of pulp fun. Such a pleasure to read after slogging through a few urban fantasies that took themselves too seriously and "cerebral" SF that, IMO, was just tedious. Just a word of warning up front. The title should give readers a clue of how truly over the top this novel is, but in case it hasn't: Giant jelly monsters, transdimensional catpeople, Venusian warriors, giant insects, invasions from Saturn and mysterious death cults. Those are just a few of the things readers will run into in this story.
Emperor Mollusk is a villain who has achieved his goal of world domination . . . and has become bored with it all. But retiring isn't really an option when assassins are targeting you and bringing your own evil creations into play against you. Now Mollusk must defeat his enemies and win the day . . .
This was a romp. I enjoyed it far too much to consider putting it down and read it straight through. I will admit the plotting got a little . . . twisty at the end. Though that usually happens when time travel is involved. If your a fan of B movie SF and pulp fiction about monsters and mad scientists, this will probably be worth your time to read, especially if you need a break from all things serious.
Seems like I may have to look up the author's other works and read them!...more
This is the first novel included in Young Miles. I've read it three times now and loved it every time, but I keep forgetting I've read it and losing tThis is the first novel included in Young Miles. I've read it three times now and loved it every time, but I keep forgetting I've read it and losing track of which Vorkosigan books I have yet to read. I think these books about Miles' youth are some of my favorite....more
A middle grade steampunk time-travel adventure! I read Cody's Powerless a few years ago and loved it. He hasn't lost his touch, that much is evident.A middle grade steampunk time-travel adventure! I read Cody's Powerless a few years ago and loved it. He hasn't lost his touch, that much is evident. The subject matter of this book may be less familiar to young readers than the superhero realm of the last book, but I think any middle grade reader looking for some wild adventure may find this a good read. Lots of fun!
And there's room for more stories with our heroes in the future!...more