Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: The Forbidden Library

Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That--along with everything else--changed the day she met her first fairy

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon--an uncle she's never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it's hard to resist. Especially if you're a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

Its fair to say that I went into this book with higher than normal expectations. I really enjoyed Wexler's fantasy THE THOUSAND NAMES and when I heard about this--Readers are Magic!--how could I say no?  This is everything I ever wanted as a child to happen to me (well except the deceased parents part).  I've been saying for years that reading is magical and this book pretty much just validated every single one of those statements.

That its a middle grade didn't register with me. As I was reading I didn't think of this as a middle grade, I didn't think of Alice's age at all really unless someone made comment about it.  Since this is set almost a century ago its very easy to overlook a lot of the liberties and restrictions Alice has as being part of that time.

Admittedly this was a bit more by the numbers then THE THOUSAND NAMES was.  There isn't a whole lot of deeper motivation then what is shown.  Alice is very upfront about her priorities, Geryon is likewise upfront about his main priorities (whether or not some of his other interests are as important are up for interpretation), Ashes doesn't really mince words (he's half-cat after all) and Issac is just kind of like 'gah! whatever!' as things get tossed at him.  So you wind up with a book that follows faithfully from Point A to B to C, that as an adult I can see how one leads into the other.  If I was reading at the intended age level?  I believe it would be more mysterious to me and thus more engrossing.

As it stood what kept me reading was how Wexler uses the Reader magic.  Lovers of THE NEVERENDING STORY or INKHEART will certainly feel this is familiar.  As a "Reader" Alice (and Geryon and Issac) are able to make what they read reality.  Sometimes this means entering a book.  Sometimes this means trapping awful creepies in books.  And sometimes it means speaking it into existence.  To leave a book the "Reader" has to basically become the hero (or heroine) of the novel or if they're lucky another Reader can read them out.  Guess which happens more often?

Since I read an uncorrected proof edition many of the illustrations that are in the final copy were missing from mine, but those that were in the book served to really help give imagination to the book.  Such as the image of the fairy which begins Alice's journey into the magical.  Wexler's description is rather creepy sounding...and the image is just downright cringe inducing.  Definitely not what a fairy looks like from what I read as a child.

The good news is I think this will appeal to both girls and boys.  There's something for both in here, as well as a whole lot of snarky good humor (I admit Ashes may have been my favorite character).  Entertaining and magical, yep that pretty much sums this book up!