by P. W. Catanese
I had enjoyed reading all of his Further Tales. So when P. W. Catanese sent me his latest book, I was thrilled. Even more exciting, however, was finding out that this first book in his new Books of Umber series moves his unique world of magic into a realm of deeper, richer fantasy. It is still a world where fairy tales are woven into the fabric of history; but now it is so much more.
There is a series called The Books of Umber within this book, as well. Those books are studies of the history, magic, and monsters of his adopted world, written by a explorer, inventor, shipping tycoon, and polymath named Lord Umber. Here is a fascinating man, whose appearance in the city of Kurahaven signaled a revolution in medicine, technology, and the arts - not to mention liberation from an evil witch. Umber surrounds himself with unusual people, copes with the conflicts that daily arise between them, and gleefully faces danger that would make other men cringe and cower. But he is also a flawed man with dark secrets, a curious history, and a form of bipolar disorder that occasionally drops him into a deep depression.
Umber's latest discovery is a boy named Happenstance, who has been left expressly for Umber to find, alone in a ruined city with no memory of his own past. Hap is an extraordinary person himself. His weird-looking, green eyes can see great distances and in total darkness. He can jump amazingly high. He never sleeps. And as his story moves forward from its blank first page, he discovers other powers, as well as ominous hints about where he comes from.
Somehow Umber thinks Hap is going to be important. He arrives at what may be a critical point in Kurahaven's history, as an old king lies sick in bed, watched by three princes of widely different character. Plus, Hap has a stalker: a horrible creature dubbed the Creep, who has strange powers and gruesome plans of his own.
Protecting Hap while searching for answers about who or what he is will be a fulltime job, even for a sharp file like Umber. It will call for the best talents of the remarkable people Umber has gathered around himself. Soon there are mysteries within mysteries: Who are the people known as Meddlers? Why did an archivist abscond with all Lord Umber's books about them? What is in the letter Hap passed along to Umber at the moment they met, a letter Umber is in no hurry to share? What secret does Umber keep in his study? What guest does he keep in his dungeon?
Hap will have to wait until another book for answers to some of these questions. For others, he will have to prove himself worthy of Lord Umber's confidence. You'll squirm with the lad as he tries to fit in with the prickly members of Umber's household. You'll grin as you start to understand the strange world Umber comes from. You'll shiver at the grandeur of the canvas the story is drawn on, and the amazing things drawn on it, from the Leviathan Barge to the royal palace, where grim forebodings might make you shiver again. And you'll hold your breath as Hap faces his worst fears, and things he ought to fear even more, on the stormy night when the Creep reappears.
These days, new fantasy series for young readers are coming out thick and fast. With so many fantasy worlds beckoning, it may seem next to impossible to choose your next destination. To make its way among all the others, a new series has to have a distinct, original idea behind it, and it has move toward something exciting. The characters in it need to be well-rounded people, complete with flaws and problems that make them interesting and that keep the story spinning in unexpected directions. Some wit and humor, a touch of romance, a wistful shade of tragedy, a quirky glimmer of the real world, and the promise of strange and urgent undertakings in the fantasy world, would be helpful. P. W. Catanese brings all of these things together. So if you're ready for the next head trip after Harry Potter, this book may be your ticket.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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