The world waited ten years for a sequel to Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It had plenty to keep it busy while it waited, though. During that time Maguire published several other books, notably Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror Mirror.
I’ve had plenty of opportunity to read this book since it came out in 1995. For one thing, I have owned a copy of it for some years. It isn’t that I wasn’t interested. It’s simply that I didn’t think the book needed any boosting from me. It’s a popular bestseller. Dozens of readers have recommended it to me. So what do I have to add except, “Ding, dong, I read it too”?
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.
I’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson before, and I’m generally leery of thick fantasy novels that have the look of “Book One of a Punishingly Long Series.” Three things convinced me to give this book a try. First is the fact that, although it was his first published novel back in 2005, Sanderson hasn’t written any sequels to it… yet. I’m told he plans to, but so far all he has rolled out is a novella set in the same universe, titled “The Emperor’s Soul”, and a short e-book called “The Hope of Elantris”. It’s possible we may luck out, and this will be a standalone novel; that would be just about perfect. The second and deciding vote in favor of reading it is the fact that an audiobook, read by Jack Garrett for Recorded Books, was available at the public library. Third, and making it unanimous, is the list of other works by Brandon Sanderson, which includes a bunch of other stuff that I suddenly want to read.
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.
The fifth and final book of “The Parasol Protectorate” confronts Lady Alexia Maccon, née Tarabotti, and her team of supernatural sleuths, with a mystery that reaches back into ancient Egypt. Intertwined with this mystery are a present-day murder case, a dark secret that threatens to break up the pack of werewolves led by Alexia’s Alpha husband, and the lingering puzzle of the father she never knew. And so a racy, funny series of romantic whodunits, blending vampires, werewolves, 1870s steampunk, and complex but convincing world-building, comes to an exciting and richly satisfying conclusion.
After reading the first book in the “Beyonders” trilogy, I decided to drop everything and go to the library to fetch Book 2. This turned into a whirlwind tour of five library branches, after which I came home with two armloads of books to read. Happily, I was able to get my hands on this, the middle book of the trilogy, and read it with an exquisitely tuned balance between relish and haste. And since I already have Book 3 in hand, my only regret will shortly be that it’s over too soon.