The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D.J. MacHale

Merchant of Death

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Publisher: Aladdin
Release: 2002
Reading Platform: Apple Books

Synopsis: BOBBY PENDRAGON is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn’t quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternative dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he’s going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning….

Review:  I find it only fitting that my return to book reviewing begins with the series that started it all. About ten years ago, in the midst of my early teendom, I stumbled upon this little gem of a novel by D.J. MacHale. The Merchant of Death became the catalyst for my interest in YA fiction and kindled a passion for sharing my thoughts on the many novels I voraciously read. You could even say that the Pendragon series as a whole marked the embarkation of my journey through website building, blogging, and written commentary.

The inspiration was so thorough that I begin a fan club for the series, appropriately called Dark Matter. (For those familiar with Pendragon lore, you will know what I’m talking about!) The site evolved into an all-encompassing book club and eventually became my stepping-stone into the wider world of book reviewing and spiritual pondering. I don’t know why I never got around to a proper review for the books in this legendary series. They were certainly formative to the imagination and creativity of thirteen-year-old Ty. Perhaps, knowing how special they were to me, I was afraid of failing to do them justice. Well, a different state of mind and a decade later, I’ve decided to remedy that. And so, without further ado…. Hobey-ho, let’s go!

Like many of my favorites in the genre of YA fiction, The Merchant of Death is approachable to a wide array of ages. Contrary to what some might think, I value brevity and inclusivity of speech over obtuse language. The ability to reach a larger audience is sometimes more valuable than catering to the literary minded. In this case, The Merchant of Death succeeds by not alienating those of a younger age group who would benefit most from the themes of life it presents. But of course, one could argue this praise is better directed to the genre at large. My point is that some books are hastily judged by their intended audience instead of the potential universality of their content.

The greatest aspect of this approachability I keep waxing on about is the relatability of the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon. As a perfectly ordinary teen who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances, we are coaxed into reflecting upon our own life and the seemingly uncontrollable events of our own destiny. Many of the trials and tribulations Bobby faces mirror our own struggles, albeit embellished by fantasy. We see him endure the loss of his old life, a shattering of preconceived beliefs about reality, and his trust in important life figures put to the test. But most importantly, we see him make mistakes and endure the consequences of his actions.

By resisting his destiny and the call to do what is right, Bobby inadvertently causes the death of someone who was trying to protect him. The ripple effect of this mistake shapes the entirety of his proceeding journey. Whereas before he had a protector and a guide, now he and his comrades are more alone than ever. But as you will see later on, in a matter of fate, this occurrence was necessary for Bobby to confront his own selfish desires and rise to the occasion of fulfilling his greater destiny.

The character development of the protagonist witnessed in the first novel of this series alone is enough to continue reading. There is a bit of a redemption arc in here as we learn that Bobby forgives himself for being afraid of his destiny. His mistakes were a direct effect of fearing his newfound responsibility to the welfare of an entire people and civilization. By overcoming his fear and riding the waves of fate, he was able to save the lives of hundreds of people and become a better person in the process. As we see at the end of this particular journey, he marks this realization with a telling statement:

I feel as if I learned a few things. I learned that it’s sometimes okay to think like a weenie, so long as you don’t act like one—at least not all the time. I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, so long as you can admit it and are willing to listen to those who may know better.

As already hinted at, a major allusion of The Merchant of Death is the great tapestry of fate that is woven out of an unpredictable pattern of causes and effects. The theme of providence or a higher order guiding one’s destiny is prevalent at every turn. Where Bobby’s mistakes seem to be terrible setbacks, they are in fact serving a greater and unseen purpose. It encourages one to have faith that everything will turn out right in the end, even if it seems impossible at the current time. As the credo of the mysterious Travelers in the series goes, “This is the way it was meant to be.”

In a nutshell: D.J. MacHale embarked upon an epic and wholesome journey with The Merchant of Death. There is so much more I wish to say about this series, but I must save some musings for my reviews on the proceeding novels. I tried to keep plot specifics as vague as possible so you can find out more for yourself! As a very formative read in my early years, I can’t give this fantastic story enough praise. Filled with themes of friendship, destiny, and redemption, there is enough food for thought to satisfy the appetite of any reader. If you enjoyed this review, check out some of my other ones here.

MacHale, D.J. (2002) The Merchant of Death. United States: Aladdin

Rivers of Fire (Atherton #2) by Patrick Carman

Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2008
Image Source: BookCloseOuts
Other Titles in Series: The House of Power, The Dark Planet

Rating:
Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A

Synopsis: Atherton was once a magnificent three-tiered world, but few of its inhabitants know the truth of its dark origin: it is a giant man-made satellite, created as a refuge from a dying Earth. Now this strange place is torn apart—its there lands, formally separated by treacherous cliffs, have collapsed and collided. But a gifted climber and adventurous orphan boy, Edgar, is determined to discover the secret of Atherton’s survival, and he embarks on a life-or-death quest to find its mad maker.

Navigating Atherton’s chaos is nothing less than harrowing. At the center, a former paradise is sinking and flooding. At the perimeter, a monstrous force is on the attack. Trapped between are two peoples, once at war, who now must combat the new foe together. And underground, the world is only more sinister. Here, Edgar’s two friends, Samuel and Isabel, venture through dangerous realms, confronting deadly cave dwellers, rivers of fire, and waters of life.

Review: Rivers of Fire is the second installment of the Atherton Trilogy, and a truly gripping continuation of the events witnessed in the first book. Patrick Carman is an excellent storyteller, and his prowess has never fallen short—least of all now. If you are new to the series, or new to any of Carman’s work for that matter, prepare yourself for an epic ride of discovery and adventure.

The world of Atherton is on a course of revolutionary happenings: everything is about to change. Readers of Atherton will almost certainly welcome Rivers of Fire as a satisfactory sequel. Most of the leading aspects of the story-line have waxed in quality, such as the readability and originality. The lack of strong character development was a slight downfall (similar to the first installment), yet better than I expected. Each personality was certainly vibrant and believable, with a nice well-rounded feel. The highlight of Rivers of Fire, as with any of Carman’s books, was undoubtedly the spirit of adventure prevalent within a handful youthful protagonists. I am always enamored, riveted, and enthused by Carman’s knack for revitalizing the child within. Tween fantasy geared toward 5-6th graders is definitely something special.

In this thrilling fantasy, Patrick Carman also weaves a voice of wisdom into the plot with the character Wallace. This kind and gentle sheepherder guides to people of Atherton in their struggles, particularly in uniting the two societies of Tabletop and the Highlands. The sad fact that—Spoiler alert!—Wallace dies makes him an immediate icon for the entire series. He is one of the characters I look up to most, after Edgar of course. On pg. 202 you can discover one of my favorite ‘Wallace’ quotes:

You must know your enemies to overcome them. That is the path of peace for every person, and it comes only by doing, not by the study of those who are already doing.

To clarify the meaning a bit; Wallace was referring to one’s inner enemies. Knowing and coming to terms with your own faults is the only way to find true peace of mind. Am I sensing a few Buddhist vibes here? Wallace also emphasizes coming to terms with your enemies in your own way. Studying the endeavors of those who have already embarked on this journey is fine, but true peace only comes by finding out the secrets on your own. You must follow your own heart, not the hearts of others. Be a trailblazer and find what works best for YOU.

Rivers of Fire is all about two unlikely groups finding common ground and uniting together to face the greater threat. As Atherton finally settles, a new order arises. The people stand united as one civilization, and all past discrepancies are as good as forgotten. Indeed, one could say the Atherton series has reached its conclusion. But you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dark Planet still retains its mysteries, and one book in the series remains. What happens next?

Overall Grade: A
Atherton: Rivers of Fire is a truly remarkable sequel to one of my favorite fantasies. Patrick Carman has  instilled his name in the hearts of kids and young adults the world over and proven himself a master of children’s fantasy. This novel is beautiful continuation of the Atherton series, chalk full of lurking mysteries, thrilling escapades, and simply-put wisdom. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Carman, Patrick. (2008) Rivers of Fire. United States: Little, Brown and Company 

The House of Power (Atherton #1) by Patrick Carman

The House of Power by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2007
Image Source: Junior Library Guild
Other Titles in Series: The Rivers of Fire, The Dark Planet

Rating:
Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 18/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A-

Synopsis: Dr. Harding is the futuristic mad scientist responsible for creating Atherton: a three tiered satellite world orbiting the fallen Earth. But those who live on Atherton don’t know Earth exists or their role in trying to save it. Edgar, a gifted climber, is one of the first to discover the first of many startling revelations to come: the three tiered world of Atherton is collapsing. A dangerous world of strange creatures and hidden powers with a history locked inside the mad scientist, Atherton is much more than it appears at first glance. 

Review: The House of Power is the first installment of the Atherton trilogy; written and imagineered by Patrick Carman. This first installment details the many dangerous and revolutionary events on the mysterious land of Atherton. The plot itself is fairly simple and decent, being a fantasy written with an adolescent audience in mind. A likable protagonist named of Edgar is presented whose various endeavors and exploits the story revolves around.

The fabric of The House of Power is rich and textured, and coupled with a breeze-to-read writing style, it should greatly appeal to younger readers. Upon starting the first chapter, I was pleasantly enthralled by a gentle mystery. The ingenious Dr. Harding is portrayed as a mad scientist, which subsequently offered a glimpse into his experiment gone wrong—Atherton itself. Indeed, the world Carman imagined is both beautiful and tragic, a success and a disaster.

The satellite world of Atherton was constructed in the 22nd century, following the environmental collapse of Earth. Overbearing pollution and technological dominance ravaged Earth for many years, until it became known as simply The Dark Planet. The original plan of Atherton was to be a refuge from The Dark Planet, but its prime creator, Dr. Harding, held secret intentions. He held specific notions how a new utopia should be created. The Doctor even developed strict guidelines on how the biological and socio-political environments should be structured. In turn, Atherton was constructed based on a three-tier layout. The top level, called the Highlands, was the location of the only water source in Atherton, and the ruling class of citizens. Next is Tabletop, the middle tier and home of the lower class. In Tabletop, the residents farm sheep, rabbits, and a certain hybrid of figs. Most of these resources sent to the Highlands. The third and final level is called the Flatlands. This dark and barren place is filled with mystery and intrigue. No one from the top two levels has ever been to the Flatlands, and any past records are nonexistent.

As you can see, a dynamic power-play is evident between the two classes of residents on Atherton. The Highlanders control the only water source, and in turn take advantage of the power to invoke harsh demands on the lower class. Tabletop struggles to cater to their lords and must contend with living in near-poverty and intensive labor. Later in the novel, readers should recognize the stirrings of discontent and rebellion as the two classes fall closer together than anyone could imagine. The mystery of Atherton is finally revealed, and mind-blowing is truly the only way to describe the surprises sure to come.

The House of Power is a quick, entertaining read sure to win the hearts of any audience. Adolescents and tweens will especially enjoy the high level of excitement and action within its pages. I tip my hat to Patrick Carman, who is a master at building enjoyable fantasies.

Overall Grade: A- 
Atherton: The House of Power is a most interesting exploration of an alternative world—and the social relationships between its inhabitants. Despite Edgar’s admirability, the characters of the book were lacking on a few fronts. Fortunately, the unique environment and well-rounded plot are plenty enough satisfy most readers.
Carman, Patrick. (2007) The House of Power. United States: Little, Brown and Company

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Release: 15 Nov 1990 (832 pages)
Image Source: Splash of Our Worlds
Other Titles in the Series: Check here

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 98/100 or A+

The Wheel of Time turns and the Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the shadow. 


Review: The Eye of the World has proven to be an in-depth, well thought, and breathtaking read. Robert Jordan has imagined a truly vivid world, where events seems to fly by at breakneck speed. Something about this book, maybe its tangibility, or the soul encased in its writing, will keep readers enthralled.  As mentioned, this fantasy’s plot is very fast paced, which greatly bumps up the excitement level.

Something truly astounding in my mind is the sheer detail Robert Jordan crafted into his novel. He seems to have an incredible eye for cause and effect relationships, which leads me to believe he would be a good historian. Indeed, reading The Eye of the World is a bit like reading history. In that sense, I could compare him to J.R.R Tolkien. Truly impressive work.

The Wheel of Time also incorporates a very detailed magic/belief system, unlike that of The Lord of the Rings. At the beginning of time, a Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which turns for eternity and weaves all lives. The wheel has seven spokes, and each represents an age. The magic in The Wheel of Time series is called the One Power. This form of magic is stemmed from something called the True Source, which powers the Wheel of Time. The One Power is dualistic, kind of like Yin and Yang, but instead is called saidin and saidar. Men are able to wield the saidin aspect of the One Power, and women the saidar. Not all people can use the One Power.

I found many similarities between Jordan’s system of magic and eastern religions in our world. The Wheel of Time concept is derived from Hindu and Buddhist teachings, while the True Source and saidin and saidar are reminiscent of Taoism. All in all, it makes for an interesting book.

Truly, The Eye of the World is a spectacular read for lovers of fantasy epics. It is detail rich and very fast paced. Sometimes the plot may seem a bit predictable or cliche, but it is still satisfying nevertheless. I’ve heard that the series is long (13 books and still going) but I plan on reviewing every one in the coming months.

Overall Grade: A+
The Eye of The World combines the best of fantasy: a mysterious history, vibrant characters, and an intense plot. Readers should notice Jordan’s eye for details and appreciate the incredible story he has woven. Anyone planning on reading the series is surely in for an incredible journey of 13 books. Personally, I can’t wait to embark!
Jordan, Robert. (1990) The Eye of the World. United States: Tor Fantasy 

Ptolemy’s Gate (Bartimaeus Trilogy #3) by Jonathan Stroud

Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud


Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 2005
Synopsis Source: Amazon
Other Titles in Series: The Amulet of Samarkand (#1), The Golem’s  Eye (#2), The Ring of Solomon (prequel)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 18/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 96/100 or A

Synopsis: Three years have passed since the magician Nathaniel helped prevent a cataclysmic attack on London. Now an established member of the British Government, he faces unprecedented problems: foreign wars are going badly, Britain’s enemies are mounting attacks close to London, and rebellion is fermenting among the commoners. Increasingly imperious and distracted, Nathaniel is treating Bartimaeus worse than ever. The long-suffering djinni is growing weak and vulnerable from too much time in this world, and his patience is nearing its end.


Meanwhile, undercover in London, Kitty has been stealthily completing her research on magic, demons, and Bartimaeus’s past. She has a plan that she hopes will break the endless cycle of conflict between djinni and humans. But will anyone listen to what she has to say?


In this thrilling conclusion to the Bartimaeus trilogy, the destinies of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel, and Kitty are thrown together once more. For the first time, we will learn the secrets of Bartimaeus’s past, and get a glimpse into the Other Place—the world of demons—as together, the threesome must face treacherous magicians, unravel a masterfully complex conspiracy, and defeat a formidable faction of demons. And worst of all, they must somehow cope with one another…


Review: The last book in a series always manages to woo me a bit. I may just be a sucker for profound endings, but I don’t know. Ptolemy’s Gate sure had this same effect on me. I found myself reading wantonly, like I used to do when I was little. The words flew by my eyes so quick, and I barely gave myself time to take notes for the review. Funnily enough, the notes I did take disappeared mysteriously a couple days ago. I’m winging it now that my precious scribbles are lost.

Anyway, back to the book. Ptolemy’s Gate is the third and final installment of the Bartimaeus trilogy. It concludes the series nicely, and leaves readers with some interesting surprises. I found the entire series, but this novel especially, very ambitious. It attempts to mingle otherworldly and esoteric concepts such as space-time-continuums with a slew of true historical facts. All of this is laced with the usual sarcasm and satire of Bartimaeus, the quick-witted protagonist, The comical aspects of the dialogue are hilarious, as fans of the series already know.

Back to the esoteric topics—Jonathan Stroud obviously has an inspired interest in theoretical physics, and possibly the occult. He provides a very interesting description of the Other Place, the non-physical realm of demons and djinn. Here is a description from The Bartimaeus Trilogy Wiki:

The Other Place is a realm of chaos, in which there is no matter but infinite ‘essence’, which is described as a mass of swirling colours with no borders or boundaries, somewhere between gas and liquid. Time runs at a different rate in the Other Place compared to the human world, although it is not made completely clear in the Bartimaeus Trilogy exactly what relationship between the two timescales is. 

What really intrigues me is the so called ‘essence.’ Being a fan of the esoteric myself, I can only wonder as to what the author is alluding to. Another description offers some more insight:

In the Other Place, all demons are one, and so their collective essence is a single conscious entity. This allows demons to heal from damage sustained in the human world, while also putting the exact mechanics of the Other Place beyond reach of genuine human understanding. Human consciousnesses that visit the Other Place require something to focus their consciousness on and are able to impose their will to a certain degree on the essence of the Other Place, moulding it to specific shapes. Although demons are much better at this than humans, and it does not apparently cause them any harm. However, they prefer not to do it, and appear to actively resent outsiders attempting to impose order upon their realm.  

Make of this what you will. I found it highly interesting, and if a chance to interview the author pops up, I will question him about this. In a way, it kind of reminds me of Shamanism and how shamans work with consciousness to connect to the spirit world. While in this world, they consult with ‘spirits’ for aid in healing and medicinal purposes. Anyway, it’s food for thought.

In Ptolemy’s Gate, readers began to notice connections between the fact the Bartimaeus frequently takes on the figure of Ptolemy and Kitty’s desire to see demons and humans coexisting. Readers become enlightened by the possibility of these two types of entities working together, for the greater good. Bartimaeus talks in awe about a human actually traveling to the Other Place. He explains how the Other Place is where spirits are free and permeable and basically twirl in kaleidoscopic beauty intermingling with forgotten fragments of a dream or bits of some long-lost memory.

Spoiler alert!

The series ended on a slightly surprising note (or not) with the death of Nathaniel. Nathaniel finally opened up and showed his true integrity towards the end of this final book. He saved Bartimaeus and sacrificed himself in the process to save those he loved most. To tell you the truth, it was a bit of a cliffhanger. There were a few loose ends that could have been tied up. I believe the author intended this.

Overall Score: A
All in all, Ptolemy’s Gate is a satisfying conclusion to the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Jonathan Stroud portrays the best of character development in Nathaniel, and of course, captures the essence of Bartimaeus once again. Readers should find his descriptions of the Other Place from a demon’s perspective interesting and maybe a tad beautiful. This is a fantastic book!
Stroud, Jonathan. (2005) Ptolemy’s Gate. United States: Doubleday

The Golem’s Eye (Bartimaeus Trilogy #2) by Jonathan Stroud

The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release Date: 2006
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: The Amulet of Samarkand (#1), Ptolemy’s Gate (#3), The Ring of Solomon (prequel)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 97/100 or A

Synopsis: At only fourteen, Nathaniel is a rising star: a young magician who is quickly climbing the ranks of the government. There is seemingly nothing he cannot handle, until he is asked to deal with the growing Resistance movement, which is disrupting London life with its thefts and raids. It’s no easy task: the ringleader Kitty and her friends remain elusive, and Nathaniel’s job — and perhaps his life — are soon at risk. As the pressure mounts, he is distracted by a new series of terrifying attacks in the capital. But is it the Resistance again, or something more dangerous still? To uncover the perpetrators, Nathaniel must take desperate measures: a journey to the enemy city of Prague and — worse — summoning once again the troublesome, enigmatic, and quick-witted djinni, Bartimaeus. Meanwhile, Kitty and her fellow rebels are planning their most daring exploit of all — one that will make their fortune and change the history of London forever.


A thrilling sequel to the best-selling Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye is a roller-coaster ride of magic, adventure, and political skullduggery, in which the fates of Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty explosively collide.

Review: The Golem’s Eye is a fantastic sequel to it’s predecessor; The Amulet of Samarkand. It could very well comprise the heart of the Bartimaeus Trilogy. The fast-paced turn of events invokes the childhood glee I used to experience during all my reading endeavors.  I enjoyed the return the protagonist—the sharp-tongued djinni that everyone should now be familiar with. Nathaniel was portrayed as slightly more aggressive than the previous novels, and his ambitions have anything but waned.

Since The Golem’s Eye takes place a couple years after the events in Amulet, readers should note how character relationships have changed, along with the positions those characters now hold. Indeed, Nathaniel’s increased aggression is probably the result of his rise to power in the government. He now holds commoners as beneath him—Although, hasn’t he always? I found Nathaniel’s antics hilarious as he continually proves his arrogance. His yearning for fame and recognition is pitying at times.

The character that truly struck me the most was probably Kitty Jones. She is both valiant and rebellious, but for the right reasons. Her truthful character is strong, a blockade of fortitude built by her past. She understands the nature of the commoner’s position, and the many flaws in the dominance of the magicians in society. Kitty stands for what she believes in, and values her partners as both friends and comrades. I have more sympathy for her, than Nathaniel.

Also, the character Bartimaeus is becoming increasingly mysterious. As readers become more familiar with his humor and personality, they are undoubtedly curious about the djinni’s past. Maybe we’ll get some insight on these mysteries in the next book, Ptolemy’s Gate.

Overall Grade: A
The Golem’s Eye is a superb sequel to The Amulet of Samarkand. It is the cleverly engineered, second installment of the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Anyone should should love this, I definitely did. Readers should try to understand the motives behind both Kitty and Nathaniel. Finding out what drives them will lead to a richer experience while reading. Also, the perplexing mysteries of Bartimaeus are as great as ever, but one step closer to being solved. I bid you adieu an invite you to check out this excellent series (if you haven’t already). 
Stroud, Jonathan. (2006) The Golem’s Eye. United States: Hyperion Books. 

The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release Date: 2003
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: The Golem’s Eye (#2), Ptolemy’s Gate (#3), The Ring of Solomon (Prequel)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality-19/20
Recommendation- 19/20
Overall- 97/100 or A

Synopsis: Nathaniel is eleven years old and a magician’s apprentice, learning the traditional arts of magic. All is well until he has a life-changing encounter with Simon Lovelace, a magician of unrivaled ruthlessness and ambition. When Lovelace brutally humiliates Nathaniel in public, Nathaniel decides to speed up his education, teaching himself spells way beyond his years. With revenge on his mind, he masters one of the toughest spells of all and summons Bartimaeus, a five-thousand-year-old djinni, to assist him. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

Review: The Amulet of Samarkand is a quick, witty, and fast-paced fantasy. It is the first of the Bartimaeus trilogy, and in my opinion quite an eye-opener. I enjoyed this novel greatly, the wide palette of characters was quite striking. I particular enjoyed the thoughts of the lead character, a sarcastic and often narcissistic djinni. They were cleverly expressed in footnotes, which added to the character’s. . . finesse I should say.

Jonathan Stroud has created a very interesting fantasy world. In fact, I would classify it as an alternative history. Taking place in London, the seat of the modern-day British Empire, the plot revolves around Nathaniel, a preteen magician. London is riddled with such magicians, who comprise the ruling class of society. They control every aspect of the government, and summon powerful spiritual entities to keep citizens in check. Nathaniel is apprenticed to a fairly low-ranking magician, who he often holds in contempt. His ambitions surpass anything his master has achieved.

A pretty good book in general, The Amulet of Samarkand is sure to give anyone a laugh. I myself enjoyed it greatly. There is much to uncover about the mysterious Bartimaeus, which I’m sure readers will do in later novels. I believe, after I’ve reviewed the entire series, I might send Stroud an email requesting an interview. I hadn’t planned on requesting authors directly, but I’m very eager to have a conversation with this one.

Overall Grade: A
The Amulet of Samarkand is a good book for those who like sarcasm and often narcissistic characters. A fairly fast read, it’s sure to appeal to most people and give anyone a chuckle. Bartimaeus is a particular interesting character, one I believe will develop over the course of the series. Jonathan Stroud is a great writer, and I hope he will continue being so into the future.

Stroud, Jonathan. (2003) The Amulet of Samarkand. United States: Hyperion Books.    

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle #4) by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: 2011
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: Eragon (#1), Eldest (#2), Brisingr (#3)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 20/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 100/100 or A+

Synopsis: It began with Eragon. . . . It ends with Inheritance.
Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chance.

The Rider and his dragon have come farther than anyone dared to imagine. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaesia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the spellbinding conclusion to Christopher Paolini’s worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.


Review: Reading the Inheritance Cycle has been a journey like no other. Truly a phenomenal and capturing series, it has forever established a spot in my heart. I will never lose the memories of thoughts I garnered from my first time reading it. Inheritance, the final chapter of the series, was a bittersweet conclusion. Truly one of the best books I’ve ever read, the ending saddened me. I was terribly reluctant to finish it. I feel as if a dear friend has been lost. . .

Despite my evident nostalgia, the tremendous positive feelings I experienced during this recent read evaporate any melancholy that could be lingering. Inheritance brought about the excitement and stay-up-late-to-read nights that any reader worships and yearns for. Indeed, you may be wondering why I rated this book so perfectly. The same happened with Brisingr—my honest reviewing skills have fallen short. I could not and will not find anything wrong with this novel. I love it so.

One of the main things that really struck me about Inheritance was Eragon and Saphira’s round-world revelation. When the trio (Glaedr included) was traveling to Vroengard, the home of the ancient riders, they ran into a storm of colossal proportions. A description from page 471:

“Since dawn, the clouds had only increased in size, and up close, they were even more intimidating. Near the bottom, they were dark and purplish, with curtains of driving rain connecting the storm with the sea like a gauzy umbilical cord. Higher up, the clouds were the color of tarnished silver, while the very tops were a pure, blinding white and appeared as solid as the flanks of Tronjheim. To the north, over the center of the storm, the clouds had formed a gigantic flat-topped anvil that loomed over all else, as if the gods themselves intended to forge some strange and terrible instrument.”

The storm continues to give Saphira problems. The wind continually tries to push her off course, while the rain is blinding and threatens to completely diminish what remains of visibility. Forced to rise above the storm, Eragon uses energy from Glaedr’s eldunari to enact a self-preserving spell—one that preserves body heat and provides a stable atmosphere to breathe.

As they rise to a seemingly impossible elevation, the clouds thin and stars begin to appear. Eragon is enamored by the sheer beauty and colors of the twinkling lights. But even more amazing, as he finally lowers his gaze to the horizon, Eragon notices something unusual. Instead of the sky and sea meeting in a straight line—as they should—the juncture between them curved, like the edge of a huge circle.

“‘The world is round,’ he whispered. ‘The sky is hollow and the world is round.'”

This revelation was momentous, a true milestone in the character development of both Eragon and Saphira. Such illumination can only result in a drastic change of mind-frame. Throughout the remainder of the novel, readers should note the effects this had on the actions and thoughts of both, especially in the effort of finding their true names.

The paths of both Saphira and Eragon to finding their true names was another momentous event in Inheritance. Much introspection was put into the effort as they both struggled to uncover their aspects, even flaws. It was a joyous event when Saphira finally found hers, yet dampened by Eragon’s slight jealousy. Out of frustration from lack of insight, he decides to go for a walk.

Eragon is away for the remainder of the night. After clearing a rubble strewn courtyard in the ruins of Doru Araeba (the fallen city of the riders) he perches atop a stone pillar, simply ruminating. His ruminations lead him on an inner journey of self-reflection.

“Then, as the first rays of dawn brightened the eastern sky over the ancient island of Vroengard, where the Riders and dragons had once lived, he thought of a name—a name such as he had not thought of before—and as he did, a sense of certainty came over him.”

“. . . And then he gasped, and he found himself both laughing and crying—laughing that he had succeeded and for the sheer joy of comprehension; crying because all his failings, all the mistakes he had made, were now obvious to him, and he no longer had any delusions to comfort himself with.”

“‘I am not who I was,’ he whispered, gripping the edges of the column, ‘but I know who I am.'”

This is the ultimate personal enlightenment; finding who you truly are. All of your flaws, your mistakes, become evident when you truly realize your identity. After reading this, I wondered if it could happen in real life, an illumination of the highest. It is true that anything is possible.

All in all, reading Inheritance was a profound spiritual experience. Just as Eragon endeavored to find his true name, I delved into a deep state of introspection, finding comparisons in my own life to Eragon’s revelations. I gained much from this novel, probably the most I’ve ever received from fantasy. Realizations into the true nature of freedom, justified leadership, and fear were only a few. The greatest and most profound would have to be a new outlook of self. I understand now, that we are always changing. Our identity does not remain fixed. Actions and decisions of the past determine who we are now. To me, this is sacred knowledge. Who we want to be in the future can only arise by working on our actions now, at this very moment.

Overall Grade: A+ 
A truly remarkable conclusion to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, Inheritance proves to a be more than any reader bargained for. Not that it’s a bad thing. A thrilling, heart-grasping, and rich fantasy, Inheritance combines a fight for freedom and marvelous revelations of the self. Readers will enjoy the immense character development that took place in Eragon and his comrades. Indeed, finishing this series, understanding that it is finally over, may be a more than sad event for many.

     

Paolini, Christopher. (2011) Inheritance. United States: Alfred A. Knopf.

Stargazer (Land of Elyon #4) by Patrick Carman

Stargazer by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: 2008
Synopsis Source: 
http://www.patrickcarman.com/enter/elyon/

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 20/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 19/20
Overall- 98/100 or A+

Synopsis: When we last saw Alexa Daley, she had defeated a threat in homeland and was sailing with Roland Warvold across the lonely sea. She had no idea what adventures awaited her until now. After a tragic attack by an evil force, Alexa and her friend Yipes are stranded in a strange community known as The Five Stone Pillars. Each pillar of rock has its own secrets and its own challenges. As darkness descends, Alexa must risk everything to defeat it, even if it means taking to the skies.

My Thoughts: Stargazer is the fourth and final installment of the Land of Elyon series. It concludes the story of Alexa Daley as she struggles to triumph over the forces of evil while finding her true destiny. There are particular reasons why this novel should be commended as an excellent read. It combines unique and strong characters with an intriguing plot. Patrick Carman incorporated a bit of his soul in this novel, as all good authors do. For long-time fans of the series, Stargazer is no disappointment.

The book starts out with Alexa, Roland, and Yipes traveling upon the Warwick Beacon. The majestic ship is traversing the Lonely Sea, on its way to a land other than Elyon. Alexa greatly anticipates what Roland has to show her. The prospect of a new adventure is one she hungers for the most. I can relate to this in the way that I hunger for a good book. Every story is its own adventure. Fantasy can truly bend reality in a way that only readers understand.

When the trio arrives at The Five Stone Pillars, disaster strikes. The Sea Monster, Abaddon, who escaped from his pit of a lair in Elyon, had secretly followed the ship across the sea. Sporting a massive body and tentacles that can electrocute, Abaddon is looking for a new place to call home. And Alexa, Yipes, and Roland led him to the perfect place. In a rage, the sea monster destroys the Warwick Beacon, although an even greater tragedy is soon to come.

Hope seems nearly lost as Alexa clutches the top mast of the sinking ship. She believes her time is up and grief, but not for herself, overwhelms her. Just as her feet near the water below, a figure swoops out of the sky upon a swinging vine and saves her from an almost certain watery doom. Now upon the Five Stone Pillars, Alexa must fight to save the people she has befriended. She must convince them to trust her, and take her word that their home must be abandoned. Making new friends and adventures is only part of Alexa’s life on the pillars. Her destiny calls to her from the sky.

A fantastic and beautiful storyteller, Patrick Carman weaves a tale of imagination and destiny. Stargazer promises much excitement and even more colorful characters than the previous novels. A unique way of writing dominates Carman’s talents: the ability to instill a positive and spiritual outlook on life. This shines most brightly out of Alexa:

“My strength was returning as we went on. It occurred to me than that it was in times of struggle that I found the best parts of myself — courage, loyalty, and an unexpected peace — and I always discovered what I needed to break through and go on.” 

Overall Grade: A+ 
 Stargazer is the fourth an final installment of The Land of Elyon series. It represents the best of Patrick Carman and what the essence of faith and destiny is all about. Readers should look forward to much excitement and beautifully crafted characters. 
Carman, Patrick. (2008) Stargazer. United States: Scholastic Press

Into the Mist (Land of Elyon) by Patrick Carman

Into the Mist by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: 2007
Synopsis Source: Back of the book

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 20/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 99/100 or A+

Synopsis- Before the walls went up. . . before the battle between Abaddon and Elyon. . . before Alexa Daley was born. . . there were two young brothers, Thomaas and Roland Warvold, whose pasts were as mysterious as their futures. Raised in a horrible orphanage and forced to escape into a strange, unknown world, Thomas and Roland found adventure wherever they turned–and danger wherever they looked. Their story is one of magic, exploration, fellowship, and secrets–all of which need to be revealed as the chronicles of Elyon unfold.

Review: Into the Mist is a fantastic inclusion to the Land of Elyon series. It brings veteran readers a much needed understanding of the plot and new readers an excellent introduction. I would label this installment a semi-prequel, as the book starts out directly after the events of The Tenth City, but the majority of the story is of Roland’s past as he tells his tale to Alexa. There are many interruptions in his tale (mainly by Yipes) and the story is brought back to the present-day events on the Warwick Beacon.

Into the Mist is a beautiful adventure of two brothers as they traverse a magical wilderness and make new friends. The magic of fantasy is evident in this book, along with the many qualities that contribute to a truly phenomenal story. It could very well be one of my favorite fiction novels of all time.

The story starts out with ten-year-old Roland and his eleven-year-old brother Thomas. Neither remember their parents, and they only have each other for family. Their earliest memories are of an orphanage, but their mischief and pranks eventually get them transferred to The House on the Hill. This cruel and horrible place is run by an even fouler woman by the name of Madame Vickers. The House on the Hill is run down and perched upon a town’s worth of garbage. Madame Vickers and her terrible son capture any unwanted orphans and force them to dig through the stinking, rotting garbage to find anything worth selling. The orphans are fed meagerly, and their sleeping quarters are located in the dark basement below the house. Roland and Thomas are in a nightmarishly grim situation.

One day, amid the rubble, Thomas and Roland find an old saddlebag that contains a strange piece of paper. The paper is inscribed with the words “Western Kingdom” and “Wakefield House”, plus an interesting symbol that matches a design on the brothers’ knees, a birthmark that resembles a tattoo. This is a calling for the boys to discover their true destiny. Out of curiosity (and maybe something greater) Thomas and Roland flee The House on the Hill to discover what the strange symbol means.

There are many reasons why I particularly favor this installment of the Land of Elyon series, but one is more prominent than all the others. During the story, Thomas and Roland are seemingly guided by curiosity throughout their adventures. One eventually learns that the godly force of Elyon has been the main influence on the lives of the brothers. He has been the drive that caused the boys to discover their destiny. Readers learn that Elyon has a plan for everybody and everything. Some people (Thomas and Roland for example) play a greater part than others in the grand scheme of things, but everybody has a part.

Into the Mist is both a fantastic prequel and continuation of the Land of Elyon series. This amazing fantasy is aided by its beautiful morals in creating a superb novel. After reading it, fans of the series should feel immensely satisfied and curiously thoughtful. It’s definitely a book that turns your attention to the more magical and philosophical aspects of life.

Overall Grade: A+
A beautiful continuation of the series awaits readers. A new outlook of the land of Elyon should arise after understanding the past of Thomas and Roland Warvold.  I highly recommend this book to those who like a good combination of adventure and morality. 

Carman, Patrick. (2007) Into the Mist. United States: Scholastic Press.