This is kind of a hard review for me to write. It’s actually been a couple months since I read the first two books, The Shield of Stars and the Sword of Waters, by Hilari Bell. Two annoying months of anxious waiting for book three to arrive at my library. So not only am I a bit fuzzy on a few of the details from the first two books, (the unavoidable consequence of the sheer number of things I read month to month) I really, really don’t want to spoil anything for anyone. The fact is these are the best young adult (the jacket recommends the book for ages 8-12, though I would recommend it for anyone 8-120) fantasy books I have read since Artemis Fowl or Harry Potter. I would hasten to add, however, that the trilogy is meant for more than just fans of fantasy/sci-fi, as the fantasy elements are extremely subtle, especially in the first two books. It is fantasy like the Princess Bride is fantasy; both stories take place in fictitious countries centuries ago with a few elements of the fantastical scattered in. (BTW, if you have not seen the Princess Bride, I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is.) Oh, and for any boys who are worried (and now I’m thinking of Princess Bride again) the series is not about romance. Camaraderie, bravery, comedy, and self-sacrifice? Loads of it. “Kissy stuff,” not so much.
Anyway, since I don’t want to spoil anything about the plot, I’ll stick to talking about what happens before the book opens. The King is dead. He has been for about eight years. The regent is a ruthless man, only benevolent in his rule to better control dissidence. He isn’t above having people killed, and is controlling the young prince. Of course, Weasel doesn’t care about any of that. His focus in live has always been more about where his food was coming from, how to avoid the guards, and whose pocket would be easiest to pick. Just his luck that one day he picked the pocket (badly) of one of the capital’s Justices. Amazingly this led, not to a dungeon or gallows, but a new life as the Justice’s clerk. Suddenly all that political stuff started mattering, as the Justice is part of a dangerous plan to remove the regent.
Of course things don’t go as Justice Hollis plan, starting a chain of events that lead Weasel (and later his new friends) on an adventure that changes the very course of the nation. What’s more I can actually say that as a whole, the narrative doesn’t strain credulity. I mean, I really enjoy these page-turners where the young boy/girl/whatever manages to overcome problems the adults can’t and save the day in some highly improbable way, but you have to admit that it isn’t particularly plausible. The Shield of Stars and the rest of this trilogy actual had me buying everything that happens. It isn’t (too) farfetched. Missing are the stereotypical adults who assume that children are completely worthless, gone are the puzzles and problems impossible for adults. Weasel and his friends get loads of help, but it is still clearly their tale.
Another great thing about the trilogy is its voice. Each book has a different narrator, but Hilari Bell gives each their own distinctive voice, ably making them feel like real live people. Even more important, she manages to craft a compelling tale that had me guessing until the very end what was going to happen. I probably say it too much, but the saddest consequence of my voracious appetite for reading is that I just am not surprised very often any more. I mean, sure, when the narrative makes no logical sense it is easy to do, but far too often in good novels I’ve figured out the end by the midpoint. That didn’t happen with these. Actually, I’ll add one caveat to that. There is one element that is obvious, almost from the beginning, something that I don’t think is avoidable, but it doesn’t detract at all because I have no idea how it is going to come about, much less how it ties into the rest of the story.
Anyway, I don’t know what else I can say without risking spoilers, and I’ve probably been going on to long about the trilogy anyway. I loved it. I can’t put it any simpler. Kids will love it as will their parents. It’s one of those sadly rare books written for children that doesn’t condescend to them or treat them like idiots. Check them out.
[tags]Literature, Fantasy, Hilari Bell, Shield Sword and Crown[/tags]