Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Flights of fantasy - more YA

I'm trying to get caught up on everything I've read recently, so here's a couple more YA books in the 8-12 year-old range:

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash (which I received from Amazon Vine) features an interesting twist on a pirate tale where the pirates are birds. Captain Blue Jay enjoys a fearsome reputation and a greed for treasure - in particular, eggs. But when he rescues an especially large egg from a raccoon, he and his crew end up with more than they bargained for when it hatches. It turns out to be a baby goose, which not only eats more than any of the rest of them but will eventually be larger than their ship, the Grosbeak. But Jay defends Gabriel the goose, saying someday he'll repay their friendship.

The idea is interesting and seems to have potential. Nash has created a complex world (I was almost reminded of Watership Down) and there appears to be a substantial amount of back-story that went into it. Unfortunately, the story seems flat and never takes flight, probably because there's really no single character here to draw in the reader with a hero (and I was never certain if Jay was a good guy or not). The illustrations, however, are great (that's the real strength of this book) and there are a lot of them. But I'm not sure that's enough to hook many readers who'll have to wade through half the book before it gets moving. And parents will want to know that there's a fair amount of violence - just like pirates in real life.

A book I enjoyed much more was Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I received an advance copy from the publisher). Although I'm a big fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I was never a fan of the fantasy genre or other such books. Nonetheless, this one was quite charming. Jinx lives with his stepparents in the Urwald forest where small communities live in the clearings and people learn quickly to stay on the path (as it says on the cover, you grow up quickly or you don't grow up at all). But when his stepfather takes him off the pathway in an attempt to abandon him, he ends up being taken in by Simon the wizard, who is cranky but seems to be a safe guardian. He even tries teaching Jinx a little magic, but it turns out Jinx has his own magic.

I actually found myself quite entertained by this book. Although Jinx is young, he's hardened to life and has learned to survive and you quickly learn to like him. Simon the wizard is interesting, though, and the issue of whether or not he (or any other grownup, for that matter) is trustworthy becomes an interesting wrinkle in the book. Eventually other kids his age are added to the story but they have their own challenges as well, making them more than just stick-figures in the story. It's not Tolkien, of course, but I enjoyed it and I think a lot of kids will, too.

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