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I have read 3 novels from this author but this one is best. It has interesting story of adventure trip and humour and yet deals with some beautiful adult themes like scared peoples' meanness and whether we should be able to accept that behavior, herd mentality, stereotyping people, what to do when we are faced with helping others against survival instinct, It makes the readers give thought to themes returning to them subtly again and again and expanding on them well..This is good book to give to young adults for reading as part of their literature.
Oliver is a minor mage. Indeed, he is a very minor mage, which his familiar reminds him of several times a day. After all, he only knows three spells, one of which is to control armadillo dander, and gives himself nosebleeds when trying to summon elementals. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter that Oliver is a minor mage when he is the only mage the town has. So, when the town needs water, they tell Oliver that he must leave and bring back rain.
Thus begins Oliver's journey.
This was such a great story and I don't know which character I liked more - Oliver or his Armadillo familiar. What begins as a sad story with the way Oliver's town all but physically forces him to leave the village to travel to the Rainblade Mountains in order to bring rain back to the village turns into an almost heart-warming coming-of-age story with the experiences Oliver has, the people he meets, and the lessons he learns - some good and some bad.
One of the things I liked most about this story was the presence of struggles that Oliver had to face where the choices were not easy and there were no cut-and-dry "this is the good choice" and "this is the bad choice" options. As with real life, sometimes there is only the best choice for the situation, even though it's still not great. This is not often seen in books for children, even though it should be, so it was nice to see it here.
While there is some debate over whether or not this book is appropriate for children, I would argue that it is, simply because it deals with tough situations where there aren't simple answers, situations where the adults who are supposed to care for the children may be more monstrous than the actual monsters, and that the consequences of choices can have long-reaching effects. These are things that can be difficult for some children, but other children already experience in their lives. For those parents who are concerned about whether or not their children are ready for this book, I suggest reading/listening to it with your children and talking with them about anything they have questions about.
For this book, I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Christopher Williams. It was a great audiobook, and Williams did a wonderful job with the narration. I don't think I've listened to any other books narrated by him - or at least, if I have, it hasn't been many and not recently, because I didn't recognize his voice - but I would definitely be willing to listen to other books narrated by him in the future. I am also adding this book to my list of wonderful books to listen to when I have an afternoon and no other plans, because it is definitely worth listening to again. After all, how many books have a snarky armadillo who's willing to tackle you because you're too stupid/preoccupied/overconfident to realize that the invisibility spell that you were certain was going to work this time even though it's never worked before and said armadillo has already told you multiple times that you don't have enough magic to successfully carry out said spell? This is the only one that I know of. Though, if you happen to discover another one - or one with a similar character - please, please let me know. I would love to add it to my reading list.
I devoured this at a single sitting, as I generally do to books. It wasn't disappointingly short, or abbreviated, as I sometimes feel novellas are-- I think it's a good length. Just perfect amount of depth of worldbuilding, enough just taken for granted vs. the stuff that's sketched out and shown to be unusual-- real gourmet fantasy worldbuilding there, *chef kiss* Is it a kid's book? I bought it thinking I might read it to my young niece, she likes long books sometimes, and I have in the past read her a lot of stuff that's nominally too adult for her. I didn't think she'd have an issue with the violence or scary stuff in this book. And then I went to bed right after reading this, and I woke up at 4am and while lying there I had like a full-on flashback to a scary scene in this book (if you've read it, it's the one where the not-farmer runs across the bridge while Oliver's in the catmint, and the detail of his hands grasping and ungrasping just stuck with me), and I was like, yo that was *terrifying*. So... I think I'll be a bit judicious reading this to a kid. It's really gonna depend on the kid. (I already knew I was going to censor the detail of a particular crunching noise during a particular bit of violence elsewhere, for sure, but that one didn't wake me up before dawn to dwell on it more. Honestly though, a kid might not get what was quite so terrifying about the not-farmer close call. It's hard to tell what'll strike people, and as I was reading it, I didn't think it scared me that much, but everyone knows your predawn awake-for-no-reason self can't be reasoned with. The author mentions that the not-farmer character was based off a book that she loved but scared her when she was a child, so maybe it's just relatable.)
As for the book itself-- it's so good! I really loved the main character, he was believably a child but also touchingly no-nonsense and self-effacing, brave but still cries for his mother in a ditch. I absolutely loved the detail that his mother was an entirely offscreen badass with a sword, and we never do get to really meet her, but she's there in the background. There are a lot of fantastic details just barely glimpsed or mostly offscreen, and it works so well, the book is exactly the length and depth it needs to be.
As always, T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon, has made a lovely book. She's got the magic and the herb-lore and the funny talking animals and the simple yet engaging plot. She writes like she writes, so if you already know you like her writing, you'll like this book. And there's no sex in this one. Because it's a KIDS BOOK. Although her editor apparently disagrees.
The only reason it didn't get FIVE stars is because it is very clearly a book for little kids. I would have happily read this to my own kid when she was six or seven, and she would have loved it. There are those that may argue that it's too gruesome for little kids, but those people haven't recently read the Aslan "crucifixion" scene in the Lion, the With, and the Wardrobe, or the pulsating brain controls the world scene from A Wrinkle in Time. Hello, folks, remember? Kid books are OFTEN creepy and gruesome! It's a long and honorable tradition going back to the Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, for pity's sake. You want gruesome? Heck, THAT one has been giving kids nightmares for a few hundred years!
So, because it was a KIDS' BOOK, and because I didn't think it was QUITE as good as the other notable kids' book this author did, which was EXTREMELY different and unusual and was called Summer in Orcas (please go immediately and buy it, because it's awesome), I gave only four stars, which still means I liked it VERY much. Just not QUITE as much as many of her others.
Keep writing them, Ms. Vernon, and I will keep buying them. If there was a way to set my Kindle up to AUTOMATICALLY buy anything you write, I would do it. As it is, it's set to offer me a one-click purchase each time one is released. You are just THAT awesome. (And for anyone trying to decide, my all time favorites so far are the Clocktaur Wars duology and the Black Dogs duology, along with Nine Goblins, but really, they're all good.)
This is one of those lovely in between books for genres. It is fantasy and yet speaks so well to normal life and growing up. It is a kids book and about a kid, but written so well and with such a captivating and well written story that it is enjoyable for adults. Yes, it deals with what feels like all to adult situations. But it is approached from the perspective of a child and with those actions and that experience guiding what happens. It is a story of learning of both the harshness of the world as well as understanding that there is more to the world than that. It is growing up to soon but also still wanting your mother. It is a sad story but also sweet and happy and beautiful in that complicated way of life. An excellent novella and well worth the read!