Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

When Lalek and Sanja meet at the marketplace, their lives could not be more different. Lalek is a traveling witch while Sanja works at her family’s market stall. Lalek also sells fake items, which lands her in some trouble. It’s during one of those incidents that the two girls meet, with Lalek taking Sanja hostage and forcing her to teach Lalek how to fight. Soon the two reach an understanding where Lalek won’t use her magic to force Sanja to comply, Lalek will stop cheating people, and Sanja will teach her to fight. The two also come up with a plan on how to make money by challenging the witches in each village to a duel. As the two journey on, Lalek’s tragic story is revealed along with the loss of her real magic. The two bond with one another from the beginning, steadily forming a romantic connection with each other.

Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted. The various witches are a marvel of different ages, magic types and races. There are bigots and evil in the world too, some close to home. The book is full of action from the witches’ battles as well as journeys through fascinating lands with interesting features. The development of the two main characters is well done and their romance feels organic and fills the pages with joy.

The art is fresh with nods to manga. It takes time to offer special glances between the two characters before the true romance begins as well as dramatic frames that are quiet yet profound. Zabarsky successfully plays with light and dark in the illustrations, illuminating space with Lalek’s candle.

Perfect for fans of Nimona, this book beautifully shows LGBTQ romance in a magical fantasy world. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Review: The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (9780062686206)

Boy has always been bullied and ignored in his village. He is different than the others with his humped back and ability to communicate with animals. When Secondus, a pilgrim searching for relics of Saint Peter, first notices Boy’s climbing ability, he decides to take him along on his journey for a few days. As Boy proves his usefulness and also realizes that he feels accepted for the first time in his life, Boy insists on continuing to help Secondus in his pilgrimage. But they aren’t really rescuing the relics of Saint Peter, they are stealing them in the hopes of getting Secondus into heaven. As their travels continue, they grow more and more perilous. Boy begins to figure out where he came from and realize that though he isn’t a regular boy he may be something all the more special.

I’ve heard so much glowing praise for this book and I thought I had tried to read it earlier in the year, but I got it mixed around with another book. So many books! When I started this, I was immediately swept into the medieval world that Murdock has created. She doesn’t shy away from the filth, the pestilence, and the violence of this world. Yet she also weaves a rich mystical Christianity into the novel that lifts it up out of the reality and into something more.

The two main characters could not be more different from one another, so their unique friendship is all the more rewarding as it emerges. Boy is open and honest to a fault, often failing to understand the nuances of what is happening around him. Secondus is filled with secrets and guilt. Both of their full stories are shared and they serve as two sides of a coin.

A fascinating look at medieval religion, pilgrimage and life, this book is rich and rewarding. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Greenwillow Books.

 

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (9780763679927, Amazon)

Journey back to medieval times in this nonfiction picture book about the skill of falconry. Told through the point of view of a young girl living in the castle, the text of the book is done in simple verse that hearkens back to traditional tales. Inset in each double-page spread is detailed information on falconry that shows the various parts of owning and caring for a hunting raptor. The book goes through all of the gear that is needed to own a falcon or hawk and then shows the hawk hunting for prey.

Smith has created a gorgeous two-layered book where her light hand with the verse and its traditional format clearly anchors the story in medieval times. That plays against the information shared about falconry which is clear and matter-of-fact. The text makes sure that readers never mistake the hawk for a traditional pet and never misunderstand that the hawk has emotions about their owner.

Ibatoulline’s illustrations are gorgeous. Bordered in a traditional black-and-white hawk theme, they have a lovely formality about them that suits the subject well. The paintings offer a feel of the majesty of the hawk. As the bird takes to the air so do the illustrations allowing a feel of freedom and joy.

This book truly soars, offering information for those wanting to know about falconry and a lovely poetic view as well. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitors Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (InfoSoup)

Released September 27, 2016.

The author of the A Tale Dark and Grimm series returns with a medieval tale set in the year 1242. It is a tale told by an inn full of strangers, who each know a piece of the miraculous stories of these children. There is William, the huge boy who is an oblate in the monastery but doesn’t mind using his fists. There is Jacob, a Jewish boy who had to flee his village when it was set on fire by some Christian boys. There is Jeanne, a peasant girl who has fits and sees visions that come true. Finally, there is Gwenforte, Jeanne’s greyhound who died and then returned from the dead. These children and the dog traverse France looking for safety and along the way they change hearts, create miracles, heal the sick (even a farting dragon) and build faith.

Immediately upon opening the book, I tumbled headlong in love with it. After all, it has the format of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, though it is far less bawdy! I also enjoyed that all of the stories happen right in the inn rather than on a pilgrimage. Gidwitz notes with a wryness that some of the narration includes more details than any observer would have, but my goodness it makes for a better telling of the tale. The medieval setting is beautifully captured through the rich prose.

This is a book that tackles big issues with gusto. It is a book steeped in faith, one where children perform miracles and a dog returns from the dead. But this is a book that looks beyond Christianity as well to the Jewish faith and thus becomes more inclusive in the way it speaks about faith. Religion itself is at the heart of one of the largest moments in the book, protecting Jewish Talmuds from being burned. It’s a powerful moment, a statement about the importance of the written word, and a purely medieval view of the value of illuminated books.

Brilliant, medieval and funny at just the right moments, this book is a lush look at medieval times for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton.

Review: Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe

brother hugo and the bear

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Brother Hugo’s library book is due, but he can’t return it because it was eaten by a bear!  So Brother Hugo is instructed that he must create a new copy of the book.  First, Brother Hugo has to go to the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse where they have a copy of the book.  On the way, he can hear the bear snuffling behind him, but manages to reach the monastery and safety in time.  On his return to his own monastery, he can hear the bear snoring in his sleep, so he hurries back.  Then the real work begins, but he has the help of his fellow monks.  They must get a sheepskin, stretch it and scrape it, get parchment paper, and get them ready to write upon.  Then comes making the pens and inks that will be required.  Finally, Brother Hugo must sit and copy the book word for word.  Finally, the book has to be bound.  As he worked, Brother Hugo could hear the bear and the snuffling.  When the book was completed, the monks offered Brother Hugo a clever way to get to Grand Chartreuse safely despite the word-hungry bear, but even with their help Hugo finds himself face-to-face again with the great beast looking for books.

In this book, Beebe has created a fascinating look at the treasure and value of books and the efforts that it once took to create them by hand.  By inserting the question of the bear into the book, the story moves ahead very effectively, offering a nice plot point in what could have been a much quieter tale of book making.  The bear also offers a touch of humor into the story, for even those of us who agree that books and words are as sweet as honey will be amazed at this bear’s appetite for books.

Schindler’s art incorporates word art that hearkens back to illuminated texts such as the one that Brother Hugo recreates in the book.  Done in fine lines and with precision, the art is detailed and adds much to the story.  I particularly enjoy the scenes of Brother Hugo crossing the countryside, because they clearly evoke a different time and place.

This historical fiction nicely incorporates how books were once made into a tale filled with gentle humor and one hungry bear.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.