What’s it like to see yourself as the protagonist of the story? I remember when I first cracked the cover on Tamora Pierce’s Alanna the First AdventurWhat’s it like to see yourself as the protagonist of the story? I remember when I first cracked the cover on Tamora Pierce’s Alanna the First Adventure and plunged into a sword and sorcery tale where a girl disguised herself as a boy to become the hero of the story. The instant joy at finding characters that could be more than sidekicks and healers. More than damsels for rescuing. Paul Durham’s The Luck Uglies evokes that fierce joy in me, well over three decades later.
It’s still fairly difficult to find a lot of fantasy stories with female protagonists playing the action adventure hero. Three years ago, when Durham’s first book, The Luck Uglies, hit the shelves, it immediately caught my attention. (You can see my review here.) That first book is still one of my favorite new fantasy titles in middle-grade fiction. Rye O’Chanter was the kind of risk-taking, thoughtful but brave protagonist that I loved.The second book in the series, Fork-Tongued Charmers came out last year. In it we learn more about Rye’s world, her father’s back story and enemies, and see her progress along the path from child to young adult. Now we come to the third book, in the trilogy and it’s . . . well, I can’t call it better than the first book, because it is so significantly the anchor book of a series, but yes, maybe it is just a hair better. For those of you new to the series, go back and read the first two books if you can before diving into this one. There’s so much that’s been set up in the first two novels that allows readers to dive into this last one with such satisfaction.
In the first story you meet Rye and her friends and family as they match wits against the Earl Longchance and the Bog Noblins. In the second, Rye must confront the Fork-Tongued Charmers and their rift from the other Luck Uglies. In this final book, the ongoing power struggle between the Luck Uglies who ally themselves with Rye’s father and those called the Fork-Tongued Charmers who wish for a new leader has come to a head. As usual, Rye’s family is at the center of it all, as is the village Drowning. But as old friends and old enemies gather to witness a final, winner-take-all contest, still more enemies gather . . . Rye will need all her wits and determination, plus the wisdom she’s gained and the friends she’s made, to save the village. But can she possibly do that and save her father in the bargain?
This is fantasy action adventure with some beautiful world-building built into it. Paul Durham creates a world threaded with magic and adventure, but one that comes across as well grounded with its own histories, legends and family legacies. While character takes center stage, they move through a landscape that is markedly different from our own yet accessible for a reader to dive into and immerse themselves in. Paul Durham doesn’t just create the story you read, but hints at far more stories we never quite get to hear about but know are out there. The world Rye O’Chanter moves through is populated with fascinating characters and terrifying monsters–and very fierce little sisters. It’s not the epic fantasy of grand-scale good vs. evil, but a smaller stakes adventure set in a significant location that readers have become familiar with over the course of three stories.
The story is firmly middle grade, in all the best ways, but I do offer that designation with a note of caution. In terms of content, if you’ve read the first two books, you know something about how dark the narrative can get, but this third book does have a few scenes that are pretty grim. I’m giving a heads-up on it without saying what those scenes are, but there’s a definite seriousness and some stark violence in this book, and that tone is set early on. Not everyone makes it out of this story alive. While I personally would consider this book a great deal of fun to read, it’s a far cry from the innocence of the opening of the first book. We’re no longer dealing with a night time book robbery by a trio of curious kids. All three friends know the stakes are much higher now, and that means they are much more serious in what they are doing. They’re not little kids anymore. Watching that growth of our young protagonists–particularly Rye herself lead to some of the most stirring scenes in the entire story. I found myself quite teary-eyed more than once at the steps they were taking to becoming wise and heroic people in their own right. And I can’t tell you my favorite moment, but I will tell you that while reading my favorite bit I just felt like cheering.
There’s one thing that drives me a little crazy about reading a really good last book in a trilogy. And that is I can’t hand it to a new reader and say “read this!” (which is what I want to do). And grabbing a pile of three books and dropping it into someone’s stunned hands with a demand that they read them is usually met with stunned stares in my experience. (I’ve done it, and now have a few friends run in mortal terror if they see me with a stack of books in my hands) I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my time. It makes me a little bit . . . critical of works that tackle subjects and tropes I’ve seen and read a hundred to a thousand times before. I try to be fair when reviewing them, since a reader coming new to these themes and tropes will read it very differently from a veteran. But it is an absolute joy when I pick up a book and find myself tearing through the pages, not knowing where the story is going, not knowing how it will end and desperately hoping it doesn’t end the way I think it will . . . and having the author not only surprise me at the end, but delight me with how satisfied I was with the closure of this trilogy. It’s a magnificent job, in my opinion. Thank you, Paul Durham for giving me such a reading adventure, and for giving this generation of readers a great protagonist in the character of Rye.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!...more