If I were handselling this I would say it was a cross between Avi's Crispin series and The Ranger's Apprentice series, which would probably have boys taking it from me without question. This would also appeal to girls who like historical fiction/fantasy type crossovers, of course.
It's leveled for teens but I'm not entirely sure why - the main character is 13, but this isn't any more grownup or violent than either of the previously mentioned series.
Tormod is a seventh child (and we all know that the number seven carries magic with it, especially in families) and he does have visions which tend to come true. Since these visions became harder to hide, everyone treats him differently. It's the evening of the village Beltane Festival, and Tormod's switched jobs with his brother - who's managed to mess everything up, and now it looks like Tormod's going to take the blame. As usual.
Suddenly a Knight Templar shows up at the door of Tormod's family home, and Tormod is the only one there. The Knight charges him with taking a message to the Abbot, which Tormod agrees to do. But one thing after another goes wrong that night, and Tormod finds himself on the run with the Knight and caught up in a web of espionage and danger that will carry him far from everything he has ever known - and show him that his visions are more than just the dreams of horror he always thought them to be.
I've always had a bit of a thing for tales of the Knights Templar (I've read Katherine Kurtz's Adept novels I can't tell you how many times) and I think this is a series that might start many a middle-schooler down the road to obsession. Black obviously did her research, and historical fact is woven in with fantasy and legend quite adeptly. (Hee. Look at what I did there with "adept.") Tormod's coming-of-age is drawn slowly enough that the reader does not feel thrust forward into parts of the story too quickly, but the pages are packed with enough adventure to keep the plot advancing at a satisfactory pace. In other words, Black's writing is as good as her research ability. I look forward to the next chapter in Tormod's story.
Preorder at Powell's or find your local independent bookstore.
This book launches Harper's new Bowen Press, so you know it was chosen very carefully. I think it's a worthy launch title - it has a lovely feel to it. Sort of a Penderwicks feel, although not quite so lighthearted; maybe a little timeless, like Elizabeth Enright, but with a dash of the seriousness Sharon Creech often weaves into her narratives. Might be a contender for an Honor book.
11 year old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson is obsessed with food and cooking and plans to go to culinary school as soon as she's old enough. Her fairly ordered world is turned upside down when her father is taken off to jail and her mother wants to tell her story after story instead of explaining what has happened to their family.
Meanwhile, her best friend Frankie's mother, who went on a fishing trip and never came back, has suddenly reappeared in his life. A former adversary of Groovy's becomes a friend. A financial revelation rocks Groovy's vision for her future. And while all this is going on, the swallows that make their annual migration to Groovy's hometown of San Juan Capistrano are arriving early and no one can explain why. No one, in fact, can explain anything that Groovy doesn't understand.
Groovy's life is suddenly topsy-turvy and she must learn to rise and fall with it. How she does so is a story that I believe many will relate to and, in the end, love.
The mood in this book is exceptional; the characterization and voice true and original. Highly, highly recommended.
Pub Date: February 3, 2009
Almost-fifteen-year-old Alis has never been out of her sheltered religious community, and despite the many rules she must live under (which caused her brother to flee years before), has lived a fairly contented life. However, everything changes when her parents tell her that she must marry the village's 40 year old minister. Alis decides that she must run away to the city to escape this unwanted future - hopefully she will find her brother and together they will live a life of freedom.
She takes the first step toward escape by convincing her parents to allow her to accompany an ailing visitor back to a neighboring village, one much stricter than her own. Here she manages to make an enemy of an incredibly cruel Elder as well as fall in love with a strongwilled village boy who helps her to escape to the city when the Elder accuses her of burning down the prayer house.
Life in the city is much more frightening and hard than Alis had anticipated and she ends up returning, nearly broken, to her village and agreeing to marry the minister. Her return sets off a chain of events that will change her life and those of her family forever.
With religious extremism so much in the news these days (and threatening to enter our White House) a lot of this book hit me pretty hard. As a staunch supporter of women's rights, women's freedom, freedom of religion and the separation of church and state it was difficult to not see a lot of this book as a metaphor for the more extreme parts of today's world. Alis manages to grow up single-minded in a community that encourages anything but and find her own way in the world and her own happiness. Hers is a world that does not make that easy. Sometimes our world seems to be the same.
I think ALIS has a lot to say and is very worthwhile reading.
Publisher: Penguin (Viking)
Pub Date: February 19, 2009