Tag Archive | the next Harry Potter

How Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?: A book review of Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle

Gabriel FinleyAwhile ago I wrote three posts entitled “The Next Harry Potter” with suggestions of possible book series  that could fit the bill, so to squawk – I mean speak.  For volunteering at the Minneapolis Book Festival this past October, I received a number of free books, many signed by the author.  One of those was Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle, the first book in (I hope) a series, that like Harry Potter has the titular figure trying to make his way in a new and strange magical world.

Gabriel Finley is an orphaned boy much like other boys in children’s stories.  He lives with an eccentric aunt and doesn’t really know what happened to his parents.  That all changes when one day he discovers he can talk to ravens, and that he and ravens share a common love of riddles.  The book takes readers to a magical world involving ravens, riddles, puns, and a powerful, elusive necklace called a torc.  It may be a bit gruesome in parts for younger readers, but on the whole is a fun story in which kids learn to work together to solve the case and to understand one another.  It’s also a great Halloween tale with several riddles for readers to solve throughout the book.  It reminds me a little of Harry Potter, The Mysterious Benedict SocietyThe Lord of the Rings, and Narnia.  It also has a few odes to Alice in Wonderland.  My favorite element in the tale was a raven-clawed writing desk that likes to dance and disguise itself in people clothes.

The story is unique in its affection for word puzzles as well as birds.  I do hope there will be a sequel of some kind, as there are many hints that birds aren’t the only magical creatures around in this world.  It’s authored by George Hagen and you can find more information about the story at gabrielfinley.com.

How Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?  I’ll let you be the judge of that after you’ve read the book.  🙂



The Next Harry Potter–Part 3 of 3

3. The Kingdom series by Cynthia Voigt

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This is an older series from the 1990s, but it’s a beautiful, fantasy-type world without magic, and has been one of my favorite series since high school.  The themes and story lines in the books are geared towards an older Young Adult audience.  The novels are all loosely connected and set in a fictional “Kingdom” and the countries that surround it.  The world is medieval, with kings, earls, puppeteers, and so on.

The first of the series, Jackaroo, has a “Robin Hood” plot involving a heroic figure who steals from the rich to give to the poor.  Although an engaging story, it’s my least favorite in the series.  My two favorites are On Fortune’s Wheel and The Wings of a Falcon.  The first is a typical romance/adventure where girl meets boy, girl falls for boy who doesn’t at first care for her, etc., but it’s not a love easily won, and therein lies the story’s strength.

The Wings of a Falcon involves the quest of a young man looking for peace.  He starts out as a slave imprisoned on an island and breaks free, taking another boy with him.  The book is full of action, some romance, a tragic yet happy ending, and has an epic scope built for the big screen.  With names like Oriel, Griff, and Beryl, it fits nicely into a fantasy genre, but again, without the use of magic as a trope.

The standout here is Voigt’s writing, which is notable because one doesn’t note it while reading.  One can become completely involved in the story, and that is the point.  No ridiculous metaphors (I have to battle this in my own writing), or effusive descriptions, just good, clean storytelling.  Modern YA is plagued by “purple prose” possibly because so many of us are going the self-publishing route, but professional writer that Voigt is, she has none of those problems.

Why this could be the next Harry Potter: The stories in the series can appeal to both teens and adults.  The “Kingdom” world is adaptable to the screen and invites the possibility of many more stories set in the same world.  The settings evoke the romance of nature, from woods, to mountains, to sea.  The heroes/heroines in the stories are sometimes childish due to their age, but they are “young adults,” with the emphasis falling on “adults.”  The Kingdom world is closer in gravity and themes to The Lord of the Rings and the later Harry Potter books, and is also not a true “series” as the novels take place in some cases generations apart.  Still, the tales offer much “scope for the imagination,” as Anne of Green Gables (I’d love to see this series remade!) would say.

Thanks for reading.  –Pixie Beldona

The Next Harry Potter–Part 2 of 3

2. Monster Blood Tattoo.

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This series is a big reason why I miss Borders.  If it hadn’t been at Borders I would have missed out on D.M. Cornish’s incredible world, for the new “American” series title and artwork are not nearly as dynamic as the first cover and title that caught my eye.  I fell in love with MBT upon reading the first book, The Foundling, and was sad to see it was months before I saw it on the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble.  One of Borders biggest strengths, in my opinion, was that they had a lot of awesomeness waiting to be discovered on their shelves.

Monster Blood Tattoo is the rightful name of this series, but for some reason it was deemed that Americans are too sensitive or something for this title, so it was changed to the bland The Foundling’s Tale.  For me it will ever and always be Monster Blood Tattoo, and I will hereafter refer to the series as MBT.  Australian author and illustrator D.M. Cornish spent some fifteen plus years creating the world of the Half-Continent.  Think Napoleanic-era empire crossed with monsters and monster hunters.  The result is as epic and as Tolkien’s Middle Earth with the addition of wonderful hand-drawn portraits of the characters.  Add the lengthy, fascinating appendices, and it’s a veritable role-playing game waiting for geekdom.

The Foundling’s Tale as a name isn’t so far off, at least for the first three books (I am hoping there will be more), as it follows an orphan boy with a girl’s name, a kid who wants to be a monster fighter but ends up being a lamplighter on the emperor’s highway.  Much like Harry Potter, Rossamünd has to continually reassess his view of world and the people and/or creatures in it.  At times he’s just plain dumb, but then he’s a kid.  The best character in the series is bonafide monster hunter Europe the “Branden Rose.”  She’s one of those hard shell-soft core people for whom Rossamünd presents a dilemma.  He insists on seeing the, well, “human” side of monsters, whereas Europe has grown up seeing them as threats only.  She’s even had her organs surgically altered so she can fight the monsters with lightening.  Interestingly, in the Half-Continent the majority of the monster hunters are women.

Why this could be The Next Harry Potter:  Despite its rather simplistic plot at times, the series has great depth and great potential.  Cornish has built a vast world meant to be explored in its minutest detail.  The world and story can appeal to a wide audience, both kids and adults, and would easily adapt to the screen.  The biggest challenge would be the terminology, as Cornish uses quite a few made up words much like HP or LOTR, but a talented screen writer would be able to incorporate these no problem. The series also boasts a wealth of interesting characters, both humans and monsters, political and social commentary, and the important theme that people and creatures be judged not merely for what they are, but for what they do and how they act.

Up next time:  The Kingdom