Tag Archives: YA fiction

Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy, book one), Susan Kaye Quinn, 2011, Book Review

open mindsI am so excited to share this book! I have read over two hundred MG/YA books since reading The Hunger Games, a series that totally floored me. Out of those hundreds, Open Minds is the only one that glued my butt to my couch as The Hunger Games did. In fact, this review will be a little off-the-cuff, because I didn’t slow down to take notes like I usually do.

In an aside, the world of juvenile self-publishing does seem to be a small one. I first saw this book on D. Robert Pease’s design website. He’s the one who created this incredible cover art. (He’s also the indie author of the very excellent book, Noah Zarc, which I loved. I have to get the newly released book two.) I remember being totally struck by this cover. But it wasn’t until I saw the book again, in a BookBub promotion, that I picked it up.

Open Minds has a dystopian feel to it. Kira lives in Chicago in a world very different from ours. Because of a mutation linked to chemicals in the water supply, people have developed the ability to communicate telepathically. The skill kicks in roughly with the onset of puberty, and the rare child who fails to develop it is destined for life as a zero, the bottom of society. Kira is one such child. By age 16, she still hasn’t changed to a reader. She’s become something far worse.

Kira is a mindjacker. She can control other people’s minds.

Kira’s confusion, anger, and fear draw us into her story. We learn about her new skill as she does. Fortunately, she has Simon, a classmate and fellow jacker who guides her development. Unfortunately, Simon carries an undercurrent of danger, a hint of the underworld. Kira can’t tell her family about her new abilities for fear of their safety. Neither does she tell Raf, her best friend, and their relationship fills with lies.

Then Kira learns there are far greater dangers when one is a jacker. And in a world that reads minds, a secret is a very difficult thing to keep.

Let me say again, this is a riveting read, one I highly, highly recommend. And I’m proud to say it’s written by an indie author who did an amazingly professional job. The huge popularity of the book is testament to that. I do have a few negatives to mention, though. First, the terminology alienated me in the beginning, but that was probably just me. I was overwhelmed by the new culture (slang/music) as well as new technology like “hydrocars” and “nove-fiber.” Also, the catalyst that prompted this monumental, worldwide mutation felt coincidental and insufficiently explained. Finally, the flow felt a little rushed in some places, particularly at the seams where hard-hitting scenes mesh together or when Kira is reflecting. The prose grows a little matter-of-fact in these few spots. I found myself wishing the author had lingered a little longer, fleshed these moments out, given us more detail to savor.

But don’t let my little quirks sway you from checking out Open Minds. (At .99 it’s a steal!) They certainly didn’t affect my five star rating. Rarely has a book mindjacked my attention like this one. The premise is wonderfully unique, the action fast and hard-hitting, the prose clearly and smoothly written. Details tuck into a tight, intelligent package. All around, it’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, Big Six offerings included. I’ve already downloaded book two.

Geared for a YA audience, but completely appropriate for 10+. I’d honor it with a Bookworm Blather Squeaky Award except for a few omg’s.

View the Mindjack Trilogy trailer.

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, book three), by Philip Pullman, 2000

I did it. I read through the final book of this trilogy. If you haven’t read my first two reviews, you should probably start there.

I was not that impressed with book two. The story moved on to several new characters and new settings while the old ones I came to love were set aside, but I figured everything would pull together in The Amber Spyglass, and I was correct. Pullman ties everything up in a tidy package, incorporating all the details from book one and book two. This trilogy has a LOT going on and it really is put together skillfully. I love Lyra, Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, and I’ll never forget the adventures they navigated together. And the final bittersweet ending is just right. From a literary standpoint, it’s a work of art. However, this series is downright hostile toward the Christian religion, which I adhere to faithfully, so I have a pretty hard time giving it a glowing recommendation.

In book one, the Church is the great villain. In book two, the heroes make war on God. In this last one, God is destroyed altogether. But not until He’s been thoroughly discredited by every protagonist voice in the story. (“He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are…He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he, and she found out the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still.”) At one point, God is shown as a cackling, drooling, terrified old man.

An atheistic worldview is rounded out in other ways. Heaven is another lie. It’s really a “prison camp” established by the Authority. Lyra set the dead free and death itself dies, but not in a biblical sense. The dead, once they are released, dissolve into nothingness, which every ghost in the book is blissfully happy about. (“All the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart…You’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.”) There’s also a good deal of evolution and science vs. religion. In fact, the story features a nun-turned-physicist who shares a long, passionate story of how she discovered there really is no God. Good and evil are based on their “helpfulness or hurtfulness” rather than on absolutes. Grace obtained by works is described as being “deeper and fuller” and more meaningful than grace given freely. And this last book also includes a lot of sexuality (Lyra is reaching puberty and sexual awareness) which is portrayed almost as an opposite to religion, as though they can’t coexist. I would guess it’s either countering Catholic vows of celibacy or flaunting biblical sexual boundaries, or perhaps both, though it’s pretty broadly applied.

So here’s my final opinion of His Dark Materials trilogy: Philip Pullman is very talented. He’s written a thoroughly engaging masterpiece that brilliantly illustrates his worldview. I can’t blame him for that. I do the same thing. But our worldviews are so completely, so irreconcilably at odds that I really can’t get behind this one. I give its content, religious and otherwise, a 14+ age advisory.

Book one: The Golden Compass
Book two: The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, book two), by Philip Pullman, 1997, Book Review

The Subtle Knife continues the story of Lyra, who is destined to change the universe as we know it. She has crossed over to another world and the main focus actually shifts from Lyra to a young boy named Will, who is from Earth.

The story begins with Will, who is desperate to hide his mother from the men who suddenly come harassing her. She hasn’t been well since his father disappeared on an Arctic exploration twelve years before. Now these men are questioning her about him, searching for something. Will fears for her safety and accidentally kills one of the men while protecting her. When he runs, he discovers a window linking Earth to Cittàgazze. Cittàgazze is a bleak place. Three hundred years ago the residents there created an object that could rend the fabric between worlds. They were careless and let in the specters, spirit beings that feast on the soul, the daemon. But in this crossroads world he meets Lyra, and their stories and destinies merge.

I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the first book for several reasons. For one thing, the elements that made The Golden Compass so unique and intriguing—the Arctic setting, the gyptians, the bears—are absent. I didn’t like Cittàgazze at all. And the story just isn’t as engaging. Pullman does weave in some vital action and information, and there are even a few surprises, but the story bounces around so much between new characters and new settings that it feels a little disjointed. Eventually they’ll all tie together, I’m sure. But this one certainly doesn’t read as smoothly as the first one.

One thing that does grow stronger is Pullman’s animosity toward Christianity. All the important “good guys” voice similar convictions against the church. Now it’s true that the church has been corrupt historically and committed some terrible atrocities, but Pullman takes it one step farther. His characters despise God himself and blame Him for instigating and condoning all the activities of the church. “To rebel was right and just, when you consider what the agent (church) of the Authority did in His name.” And they list mutilations, cruelties, burning witches, etc. all “designed to destroy the joys and the truthfulness of life.” God is called the “tyrant” who has worked for ages to keep knowledge, wisdom, strength, decency and freedom from humanity while desiring their obedience, humility and submission.

(Spoiler alert!) We also find out that Dust has a consciousness, an intelligence. It can communicate with humans. It’s associated with the rebel angels who fought against God in heaven in ages past. Then 35,000 years ago, the angels, through Dust, tampered with the evolution of man and made us what we are with one purpose in mind: to gain allies in the war against God. Now Lord Asriel’s plan is coming into line with theirs. He’s gathering an army from many worlds to make war on God and finish what the rebel angels started ages ago. And Will is bringing him the one weapon in all the universes that can kill Him. This time the “right side” must win. “We’ve had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history.”

I was pretty shocked by the malice in this one. I would have no problem letting my kids read the first book when they reached high school age. I’d want them to be aware the atheistic point of view, to be able to judge for themselves the bias of the author, and to be able to locate twisted doctrine and such. Also, the first story was very engaging. This one just isn’t. The things I liked about book one have vanished, and the things I disliked have magnified greatly.

Parents should also be aware of additional content that gives it a high maturity age (14+), like some graphic death scenes, suicide, mercy killing, a huge amount of spiritual content, sexual affairs (veiled, but apparent), talk of sexual mutilation, etc. It’s been promoted as middle grade fiction, but this one is definitely not for tween readers. But I don’t think I’d really want my kids to read The Subtle Knife at all.

In a nutshell, this one was a disappointment. I am, however, going to finish the series and give it a thorough opinion.

Book one: The Golden Compass
Book three: The Amber Spyglass

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, book one), by Philip Pullman, 1995

I’ve heard a great deal of controversy over this book in recent years, particularly when the movie came out five years ago. It was time to tackle it and make my own judgments. What I found was a complex, evocative, skillfully crafted tale with breathtaking scenes, highly developed characters, and a plot that is out of this world. It was entertaining and challenging at the same time. My overarching caution, however, is a blatant bias—almost an animosity—against Christianity.

Lyra is an uncontrollable ten-year-old who is abandoned in a college by her father to be raised by the resident scholars in Oxford while he pursues his life work. The world she lives in is very similar to ours, though there is a fantastical element to it. The date is not given, but it feels like the late 1800’s or so. It is a world dominated by the Magisterium, the worldwide religious organization that closely resembles the Catholic Church. It is also a world in which alternate universes have been discovered, but fear prompts the church to forbid research along such lines and label such notions heresy. But Lyra’s father is determined to pursue it anyway. In the meantime, the Gobblers, a church-sanctioned institution officially called the Oblation Board, has their own agenda, and it involves the kidnapping of children and the most vile of experiments. Lyra’s friend Roger has been taken. She’s determined to rescue him and also assist her father in his quest, unaware that she is destined to play a pivotal role in the history of universes.

Let me say again that this one is very complex. There are many institutions mentioned, a good deal of politics, and a lot going on. But it is skillfully wrought, and everything does make sense in its time. I especially love the fantasy woven into this world. For you see, every human is born with a dæmon. Yes, that is an archaic way to spell demon, but in this case, a dæmon is a spirit who takes physical animal form and is attached to a person’s soul. It is their closest companion who shares their thoughts and loves, a vital part of their existence that accompanies them even to death. They’re quite endearing. Even brief spacial separation from a dæmon is physically and emotionally excruciating. The book also creates intricate sub-societies like the gyptians, a tight-knit, nomadic water people often shunned by other societies, and witches, who love and breed with men, though they suffer centuries of heartache because they long outlive their sons and husbands.  And my favorite, the society of armed polar bears in the far north. This fantastic world is rich and compelling and a proper basis for a plot of this magnitude.

Despite the high quality of writing, I do have plenty of cautions to issue. There is a smattering of mild profanities, a good deal of spiritual content and mysticism, and the book dips into lots of subject areas that to my way of thinking seem too adult for kids under 12. In fact, I would not let my kids read this till high school. They include castration, drunkenness, exorcism, messy love affairs and discussions of sexuality, some atrocious acts of barbarism, and a variety of graphic scenes. But the religious statement the book makes is the one that caused all the controversy.

The Golden Compass, originally titled The Northern Lights in the UK, has been called a parody of Pilgrim’s Progress, the 17th century epic poem by John Milton, so let me divert for just a moment with some background. Pilgrim’s Progress is an example of Puritan literature. Puritans lived in a day when the Church of England was extremely powerful and intolerant of views which were not their own. (Think Mayflower and the Pilgrims’ desperate escape.) Milton’s poem was a challenge to the Church, a protest that cut through their traditions and powers and made a clear doctrinal statement of the Bible, particularly the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden and God’s promise and means of restoration through Christ. It also makes much of the choice given to men, free will to chose or reject God. Mr. Pullman’s novel does much the same thing, rightfully protesting the power of a corrupt Church, only it twists the text and message of the Bible to its own purposes and, in essence, applauds the rejection of God. The language and doctrine laid out in the novel are quite explicit. If your faith, like mine, lines up more with Milton’s, consider this an extreme warning. If my high school kids picked this up, I’d be sure to initiate questions, discussion, and comparisons with actual biblical text.

Interestingly enough, the movie didn’t do very well in America because it was strongly criticized by groups on both sides of the religious spectrum. Producers toned down the content enough to incense secular groups but not enough to please Christians. As a result, the two sequels were never put into motion. I have not seen the film, but now I’m very curious.

In conclusion, from a technical standpoint, The Golden Compass is a fine piece of literature. From the viewpoint of a conservative mom, its message is not one I condone. This is considered middle grade fiction, but my recommendation is age fourteen along with a dose of healthy guidance.

Book two: The Subtle Knife
Book three: The Amber Spyglass

Tears of a Tiger, by Sharon Draper, 1994, Book Review

In Memorium

Robbie Washington, captain of our basketball team, was killed after the November 7 game in a terrible automobile accident…”

…and Andy was the one driving the car. Drunk. He didn’t mean for it to happen. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt, especially not his best friend. They were just having a bit of fun after the game. Now Andy has to live with the memory and the guilt of Robbie’s death.

He’s not sure he’s up to it.

This is an emotionally charged story, and one I didn’t necessarily enjoy. There aren’t any surprises in it. I guessed from page one how it would end, but the telling is very unique. Ms. Draper doesn’t give us a straight forward narrative. In fact, there’s no narration at all. It’s a collection of essays, letters, news articles, and dialogue, but it gets the job done. The aftermath of the accident is brilliantly related, with all the grief, questions, guilt, and nightmares that naturally follow. To me, an adult, all the drama felt like overkill, but I’m not the primary audience. This one is written for teens. Though the book is almost twenty years old, I think they will still find it relevant, engaging, and eye-opening.

But there’s a second major theme in this one. Andy is black, and he struggles to succeed in a white world. In fact, he equates success with white and therefore doesn’t really pursue it at all. This, again, felt very foreign to me. I, like Andy’s parents, wanted to lecture him to get his grades up. Come on! Make something of yourself! But I’ve never been laughed at by my peers for getting an A or been followed through a store by a suspicious clerk. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a black kid. Ms. Draper, an African American woman and a high school teacher for many, many years, has a much better grasp of the situation. And she does a fine job relating it. I simply struggle with the receiving.

In conclusion, Tears of a Tiger was a stretcher for me. A perspective I’m not accustomed to. It was good for me to read it, but I’m not in a hurry to read the rest of the trilogy. It’s definitely a thinker for teens, however. I’d recommend it on the strength of Ms. Draper’s writing and on the message she gets across. I’d give this one a 13+ recommendation due to the heaviness of the subject and the teen culture that’s related, but it is cleanly written with the exception of one mild profanity. A great discussion starter and a warning to kids to think about the consequences before you act.


Crossed (Matched, book two), by Ally Condie, 2011, Book Review

This is a continuation of the story of Cassia and the two men she loves. She is leaving behind Xander, perfect Xander who is destined for greatness within the Society, Xander, to whom she is Matched, and looking for Ky, the Aberation who has been sent to die in the Outer Provinces, the man who has stolen her heart.

And Cassia does find Ky. It’s almost too easy, the way this soft and pampered girl jumps an airship, escapes from a doomed village, runs twenty-five miles into the bleak Carvings, and catches up to Ky, who just happened to escape from the same village two days before. The journey changes her. For now, along with finding Ky, she has a second goal of finding and joining the Rising. This really isn’t the Cassia I came to know in the first book. Unfortunately, Ky doesn’t feel the same way about the revolution. And Cassia doesn’t yet know that Xander has already joined.

Again, I’m finding the dystopian genre to be pretty predictable. I wasn’t crazy about the alternating points of view, either—a chapter from Cassia followed by a chapter from Ky. Their voices don’t differentiate that much. I often forgot who was speaking and had to look back to the beginning of the chapter to find out. And the romance, while physically mild,  is still too over the top for this reader: “The way he says it, the way his mouth looks and his voice sounds, makes me want to leaves these papers alone and spend my days…trying only to solve the mystery of him.” (I’m rolling my eyes here.)

But Ms. Condie’s writing has a definite beauty, a thoughtfulness to it, that I did enjoy. The characters are unique from each other, though sometimes they say or do things that seem incongruent, and the wilderness setting feels beautiful and real. I’m especially intrigued by her theme of death. The Society preserves tissue samples of every individual they deem worthy with the goal of one day bringing them back to life when the technology is perfected. But Cassia rebels at this. “The Society can’t do this for us. We can’t do this for ourselves. There is something special, irreplaceable, about the first time living.” I like that.

Now I have to give my thoughts on the love triangle, just because it is the driving force in the series. Xander is Cassia’s perfect match. Her falling for Ky felt forced in book one. And even though I just spent an entire book with Ky, I still feel the same way. Their relationship just doesn’t have the grounds for this level of involvement and committment. So which man will win out in book three, heart or reason? Passion or familiar and comfortable? Either way, I’m guessing the other fella will get killed off.

I appreciate that Crossed is cleanly written. There is no heavy physical intimacy or profanity, and the violence is pretty tame.  I’d say it’s appropriate for younger fans of dystopian romance (10+). I’m not dying to get my hands on the last installment, but I probably will read it.

Book one: Matched

Matched, by Ally Condie, 2010, Book Review

Matched is the first in a trilogy of dystopian YA fiction by Ally Condie that I’ve heard so much about on the web I had to read it for myself. It’s good enough that I want to finish the trilogy, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel very original. Maybe I’m just burning out on the dystopian genre. After seven or eight of them, the themes all start sounding the same. This one, like all the others I’ve read, involves a domineering futuristic government, lots of rules, capitalized terminology unique to the setting, little freedom, and a main character who rebels. I really enjoyed the The Hunger Games trilogy, by Susanne Collins, and I liked the Divergent trilogy (so far) by Veronica Roth, but maybe that’s because they were my first YA dystopian experiences. And of course there’s the middle grade Giver trilogy that I reread this year which I still like. But I’m starting to see a pattern. It took some of the glitter out of this series.

Matched opens on Cassia’s seventeen birthday. She’s on her way to her Matching Ceremony in which the Society chooses her future mate. Curiously, impossibly, she’s paired with her best friend, Xander, who traveled to the ceremony with her. But later, when she inserts her microcard into the port to read the data on Xander, his face fades out and another boy she knows, Ky Markham, shows up on the screen as her match. What happened? The Society never makes mistakes like this.

The power of suggestion proves too much for Cassia. She’s now intrigued by Ky and his mysterious background and his label as an Aberration. She finds herself falling in love with him, and he with her despite the danger of defying the Society. And that’s basically the whole plot of the book. The way she drops her dear friend and goes chasing after Ky was a little too much for me. The whole thing felt contrived. But Ms. Condie does have a beautiful writing style, and she creates circumstances intriguing enough that I do want to read the next book of the series. Because there was more to the “mistake” than Cassia thought. A lot more. For example, a border war the general population knows nothing about. But the astute ones like Xander, like Ky, like Cassia’s father see the signs. The facade the Society puts forth, the perfection and safety, is starting to crumble. And now Ky has been sent to the front lines.

This book was entertaining. It kept me reading. But it also reaffirmed for me that middle grade fiction is still my first love.  12+

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, 2012, Book Review

Veronica Roth has created a page-turning second novel in Insurgent, which continues the dystopian YA series set in futuristic Chicago. There, society is split into factions based on predominant character traits: Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, Candor and Abnegation. These exaggerated strengths have always helped maintain balance and morality among the whole. Until Erudite sought to overpower the others.

In Divergent (book one), Erudite developed a serum that, once injected, can control groups of individuals. Using Dauntless as involuntary mercenaries, Erudite initiated their destructive plan. Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Four, two loyal Dauntless who are working to end the violence, but a faction no one considered is rising in the chaos: the factionless, those poor and misfit souls who failed initiation of their chosen faction. The factionless want to utterly destroy Erudite and do away with the old system completely. Can Tris and Four stop them even when a difference of opinion threatens to rip their relationship apart? Even when they become privy to information that could change everything—including known history?

This was intense! I liked the first one just a bit more, but Ms. Roth does a tremendous job keeping the momentum moving through a sequel. I sympathize with Tris, but I don’t like her quite as much in this one, yet I admire her courage and still rally behind her. I missed the honesty and sweetness that so defined her relationship with Four. This time around, they bicker and hide things from each other constantly until I just wanted to shake them! Yet there’s still enough between them to hope they continue. And this book contains a tremendous element of suspense. What is the information the Abnegation leaders were going to make public, the information that started the war? It’s alluded to often, and Tris risks everything, including Four, to learn it. In the end, I thought the info was a little anticlimactic, but then I haven’t really taken the time to work out all the implications. I’ll leave that for Ms. Roth and simply anticipate book three!

Contains some war-type violence and a few mild profanities. Ages 12+

Eligere (Seranfyll, book two), by Christina Daley, 2012, Book Review – Bargain eBooks

Christina Daley’s second book in her Seranfyll series is well worth reading. I think I liked book one just a touch better, with its unexpected magic and the delightfully eccentric character of Domrey (read my review of Seranfyll), but this is a solid second installment. Domrey and his adoptive sisters and brother, Rain, Snow and Coal, are all back. In fact, it is the cohesion of this peculiar family and the awesome values they stand for—like love, sacrifice and freedom—that makes this series truly refreshing.

As Domrey, who’s now using his magic powers in the service of the king of Yoan, is given an assignment on a tropical isle, the action moves across the globe. Ms. Daley gives the “Untamed Island” a great sense of place, making effective use of details like climate, animals, people groups and native culture. The book takes on the feel of a missionary story when Domrey, Rain and the others finally land in jungle village and help the doctors who live and work there. (Actually, quite a few times I was vaguely reminded of biblical parallels, just as in book one, but the book is not religious.) And while my attention did wander at times during the mundane moments in the village, there are exciting events scattered throughout. The last quarter of the book, after Rain is kidnapped, grows very adventurous indeed.

A word about characters. Oddly, I never really clicked with Rain, even though the narrator follows her around for the whole book, with the singular exception of chapter 32, when the “camera” follows Domrey and Coal on a journey that does not include Rain. I found her reactions, especially her moments of anger, a little forced. While she does discover some hidden talents by story’s end, and she makes some selfless choices, I never felt that she internalizes the plot effectively, never develops and grows like she did in book one. Domrey was easily my favorite character in book one. As the devoted, wise, generous patron of the family, he is still vastly important, but he takes more of a back seat in this one. This time I thought it was Coal who emerged strongly, with his complex personality. He’s coarse and quick-tempered, violent even, but his loyalty and tender heart make him vastly endearing.

The prose flows easily and is noticeably smoother than book one; however, it delves a little too deeply into slang and cliché. Modern words and phrases like “moron,” “cool,” “weird me out,” “missed it by a mile,” “beaten to a pulp,” etc. clash with the setting’s Old World feel. But the writing does contain moments that are absolutely lovely, such as when the old chief sings “with a voice beautified with age and dignity.” Or when “Light drops (of rain) tapped their tiny tunes on the roof.

Ms. Daley is a master of quirky detail. In book one, I loved that Domrey created his spells by knitting. And that Quill, the butler, was once a chicken and now runs around in circles when excited shouting “Ba-Clack!” I was glad to see Quill back. This time around, a new character, Phineas Klopp (Don’t you love that name?) draws mystical creatures on paper and brings them to life. And another magician creates black hole spells, where the air rips open and swallows bullets and fireballs and such before they can do any harm. Clever! Details like these give this series so much character.

In conclusion, I think Eligere, like Seranfyll, will appeal to anyone with a penchant for fantasy. I’d say it’s geared toward mid-teens, but the language is perfectly clean, and any content objections are so mild that I won’t even include them, so I’d put a 10+ recommendation on this one. And finally, I’m pleased to say the book’s final pages scream the promise of a third volume sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Tune in tomorrow for a 5-Q Interview and GIVEAWAY with Eligere author, Christina Daley.  In the meantime, hop over to her blog and pay her a visit!  

Be sure to grab a copy of  Seranfyll (book one).  It’s only 99 cents!  Also available in paperback.  Find it here:

 Eligere (book two) is only 2.99, or paperback.  Here’s where to find it:

Orphan of Destiny (The Youngest Templar), by Michael P. Spradlin, 2010, Book Review

Of the three books in The Youngest Templar series, Orphan of Destiny was my favorite. At long last, Tristin reaches England. Pursued by Sir Hugh, he hides out for a time—in Sherwood Forest! Robard takes on his full role as Robin Hood (Robard Hode), the Thane of Sherwood, complete with a cast of thinly-veiled characters that have been building the entire series: Friar Tuck, the maiden Maryam, Will Scarlet and Little John. Tristin and Robard even have a standoff with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s a fun little aside built right into the series that actually makes sense. At the end of the book, it is suggested that the story of Robard and the Sheriff may not work out quite as simply as Robard thinks it will.

But of course Tristin can’t stay in Sherwood. After a brief stay, he continues on to Scotland in search of Father William, the priest to whom the grail must be delivered. And of course you can guess who waits for him. Sir Hugh. But the end isn’t completely predictable. Well, mostly it is, but it’s a good ending. A satisfying one that concludes an exciting, sword-swinging adventure series.

This book isn’t completely squeaky. After flirting with profanity for two books, this one contains a couple OMGs and a few colorful words that toe right up to the line without quite stepping over. The content, like the rest of the series, is completely clean, with the exception of some mild violence. And again it has moments here and there that make me roll my eyes, like when Tristin is handed the mantle of leadership by much more qualified men, or when something is hugely predictable, or when I can totally see through a writing gimmick. But overall I’d rate these as decent and engaging for high middle grade/low YA readers, especially for boys or lovers of Robin Hood lore or medieval history. I’d probably enforce a fifth grade+ limit in my own house.