The following guest post is from the talented and lovely Laura whom I work with at Chapters. Thanks Laura for helping me catch up with my book reviews - will bring you some fudge tomorrow
by Brandon Mull
Suggested Ages: 9-12
Buy from Indigo
Description: Four children separated by vast distances all undergo the same ritual, watched by cloaked strangers. Four flashes of light erupt, and from them emerge the unmistakable shapes of incredible beasts - a wolf, a leopard, a panda, a falcon. Suddenly the paths of these children - and the world - have been changed for ever. Enter the world of Erdas, where every child who comes of age must discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both. A dark force has risen from distant and long-forgotten lands, and has begun an onslaught that will ravage the world. Now the fate of Erdas has fallen on the shoulders of four young strangers ...and on you
The Good: The character development was very well done. You learn each characters purpose, their drive, history, and flaws very efficiently and effectively. Although their names may be a little difficult to figure out how to pronounce, that actually fits with the setting of the story. The setting is almost a parallel of our present geography with the countries located in the same spots, just with different names. It is very helpful to have the map included at the start of the book. Once three of the characters are united for their training, the story has a good flow as they build their relationships with each other. There is a touching moment as well, when Meilin struggles to connect with her spirit animal, a panda named Jhi. "Meilin stepped out of the rain, closed the door, then knelt down and hugged the panda. Jhi felt warm and perfect. Meilin embraced her for a long time, sinking into her thick fur and enjoying her scent as never before...The panda didn't respond, but Meilin felt like she understood." (p. 126). Another thing I appreciated is that although our protagonists are children that will be battling against adults and other animals, they are still acknowledged and treated as children. So many novels put children into adult circumstances and have them behave like adults without respecting their limitations due to youth. Once we reach Chapter 14, we finally understand what the children are going to be fighting for, and the action scenes begin. Now it becomes very interesting and a quick read to the end to find out what is going to happen next. The conclusion answers many of our questions but leaves enough of a cliff hanger to make us very curious about the next book.
The Bad: Immediately, we are reminded of the reaping ceremony in The Hunger Games, but in this case it is the boy servant helping his boy master get ready for his spirit animal ceremony. Although Spirit Animal readers likely will not have read Hunger Games yet, for older readers there are too many similarities. The anticipation, emotional responses, large crowd gathering for the annual ceremony, etc. Another thing I came to notice early is that the language is very formal for a book geared towards young readers, and one that has young characters. "We just received word that they were but a prelude to a major incursion. Your father had prepared for something of the sort, but our enemies have more men and resources than even General Teng had guessed." (pp. 27-8). In the first chapter we learn very quickly about a set of characters, what they are preparing for, the event and summoning of the spirit animal and a hint at what may happen next. The second chapter begins the very same way, but with the next key character and the entire chapter follows the same path as the first. This happens for two more chapters, which has taken away the anticipation and excitement since we already know what is going to happen. The body of the story unites three of the four characters in training and detail about what there purpose might be, with the occasional chapter dedicated to the fourth character and her training with whom we assume are the antagonists. It is not until Chapter 14 (of 19) that we finally reach a turning point in the story, leading up to a battle and the climax. The next few chapters are well written and finally make us want to keep reading to answer some questions we have developed along the way. "Abeke wobbled. The shelf was splitting and cracking underfoot. The whole cliff shook harder than ever. Wearing the Granite Ram made her feel no different, and many of the ledges she had used to get here were gone. But with rocks hailing down from above, and with the rock beneath her tearing away from the cliff, she had no choice but to jump." (p. 191). Overall, the repeating chapters at the beginning and the fact that it took so long to get interesting made it a struggle to want to continue to read the book.
We received this from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review