It’s the fifteenth book of the Dresden Files. I know some avid readers who say the series has long since become same-old, same-old. Weirdly enough, I’m still engaged.
The narrator never tells us his name. He never says exactly whose funeral brings him back to the town where he grew up. Until he arrives at the shore of the pond beyond the farmhouse at the end of the lane he used to live on, he doesn’t even know what has brought him back here. And then he remembers it all.
When Thomas wakes up inside a metal box, he remembers nothing about his former life except his first name. Then the box opens, and he becomes the latest in a series of monthly arrivals in a boys’ camp from hell. The teens live in a glade at the center of a huge maze. Some of them have been there up to two years. No one has ever found a way out. The walls move during the night, when venomous monsters called Grievers prowl the maze. Kids who have survived being stung (or worse) remember just enough about life outside the maze to fear getting out more than staying stuck inside. Though Thomas has just arrived, he has a strange feeling that he is meant to be here.
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, allegedly discovered in an archeological dig and reconstructed by an expert scholar, relate the experiences of a young explorer in a long-ago world full of magical races, objects, and stories. In this third book, following “The Floating Island” and “The Thief Queen’s Daughter”, Ven and his friends flee from the frying pan to the fire. By “frying pan” I mean the Inner Market, walled up inside the Gated City, walled up inside the seaport of Kingston, where the Thief Queen has just been cheated of her prey. By “fire” I mean, well, fire. A dragon’s fire.
When Cole and his sixth-grader friends troop down the basement steps to view a spooky Halloween house of horrors, they’re more worried about whether they’re too old to go trick-or-treating than about being kidnapped. But the basement is already nearly full of caged kids waiting to be forced down a ladder in the floor. Cole manages to hide until everybody has gone down the hole, wondering how anyone could think of getting away with kidnapping so many kids at once. Then he follows them. His plan is just to find out where the kids are being taken, so he can report back to the police. But the hole in the basement floor proves to be a portal to another world—and it’s a one-way trip.
In “The Floating Island”, we first met Ven Polypheme, an unusual specimen of the ancient Nain race. Unlike the typical Nain, whose idea of a good time is to dig ore out of a mountain’s roots, Ven’s family lives in a human city and specializes in building ships. Unlike other members of his large, practical family, Ven has the itchy feet of an explorer. And unlike practically anyone else in known history, Ven has survived an attack by the Fire Pirates. By the opening of this sequel, Ven has found his way to a wayside inn staffed by orphaned children. His friends include the cook’s mate of a sailing ship, a pastor-in-training for a congregation of little people, a pickpocket named Ida No, and a quiet little Gwadd girl who shares her people’s power to make things grow. These friends are ready to join Ven on his next adventure, when young King Vandemere sends him to the thieves’ market to seek the origin of a mysterious, glowing stone.
When I saw this book at the public library, I thought it had a striking design. This, including loads of quirky but beautiful illustrations, is the work of Carson Ellis, who has also decorated books by Lemony Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart. As for the author, I thought his name sounded familiar. Only later, after I had brought the book home, did I connect it with the alternative rock band the Decemberists, of which Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter. If you’re familiar with his music, you may not be surprised to learn that hints of a political message and of a New Agey, earth-magic type of spirituality perfume the pages of his book. But it’s also a thrilling fantasy adventure featuring a couple of kids from St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, who find a strange, magical, perilous world hidden within a short bicycle ride of their city.
Random House sent me a copy of this latest book by the author of the “100 Cupboards” and “Ashtown Burials” series. I thank the author and his wife for arranging it and apologize for once again taking so long over such a short book. Released in April 2014, it is as Heather Wilson described it to me, a mash-up of “Beowulf + football + Florida swamps.” As befits a book based on an epic poem—the classic work of Old English literature, in case you slept through your high school literature class—N.D. Wilson’s retelling is filled with heroes and magic and dreadful monsters, features a seemingly invincible being of ancient and evil power, and has the ring of poetry flowing through its paragraphs of prose.
Everyone who meets Don Quijote is amazed that one and the same person can be so wise and well spoken regarding most things and so completely insane when it comes to chivalry and the deeds of knight-errantry. Really a sensible old country gentleman, he has had his head turned by “books of chivalry”—romances about the apocryphal acts of apocryphal knights, their quests and amours, their saintly virtues and their military exploits. At times it seems possible that he has deliberately chosen to set aside reason, to make a break with the modern world, and at hazard of looking like a lunatic, to pursue the ideals of a time that has long passed, if it ever was. Maybe he’s a danger to himself and others. Maybe he’s a harmless fool. Maybe his protest against the unromantic pragmatism of modern life will be heard. Or maybe his plight is a protest against the poison of romance. Spin your interpretation as you will, what happens to Don Quijote and his talkative, rustic squire Sancho Panza is so funny that you may hurt yourself laughing.
Two 12-year-olds from Waterloo, UK (near Liverpool) tell their parents they are going to the Lake District for a school camp, when in fact they are going to the moon. Kids these days! It’s only the latest prank pulled by young Liam, who has made a study of ways to get in trouble by being tall for his age and stubbly-chinned. When adults mistake him for one of them because of his height and mature looks, it’s as if he can’t help himself. It starts at an amusement park, with a thrill ride other kids his age are too short to try. Then there’s his first day in high school, when the headmistress mistakes him for the new teacher. By the time his father catches him trying to test-drive a Porsche, you would think Liam’s fever for mischief has run its course. But you would be wrong. This thrill ride goes all the way to the moon.