It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.
I'm pleased to be a part of The Dungeoneers blog tour!
Anderson, John David. The Dungeoneers
June 23rd 2015 by Walden Pond Press
ARC received from the publisher.
Colm is being raised in a family that includes eight sisters, a hard working shoemaker father, and a beleaguered but loving mother. Knowing that the family fortunes are devastated in the wake of a family illness, Colm does the unthinkable-- he picks pockets in town, and comes up with a LOT of money. His father doesn't see this as a good thing, and takes his case to the magistrate, where he meets Finn. Finn wants to make Colm his apprentice as a rogue, working for Tye Thwodin. Thwodin is a Dungeoneer, and leads a group of talented individuals who help him find treasure in various dungeons and take it for their own. He also runs a sort of school, and Colm's introduction to this is finding himself trapped in a dungeon with Serene, a Druid, Lena, a warrior/barbarian, and Quinn, a mageling. They break out in record time, and set to preparing for their trial. Some odd things are going on in Thowdin's world, including Master Wolfe being set upon by orcs, but Colm blossoms under Finn's tutelage. He can pick locks, and learns many other copying skills. He also makes the acquaintance of one of the most accomplished dungeoneers-in-training, Ravenna Heartfall, who is striking and mysterious. The trial brings many challeges as well as some surprises, and Colm must utilize all of his new skills to keep himself and his new friends alive.
Colm was a fantastic character. At home, he was just trying to survive his rambunctious sisters, knowing that his father wanted him to become his apprentice, but realizing he hoped for more than such a hard scrabble existence. Not knowing where to find any other kind of life, he is relieved and excited when Finn shows up and promises him untold treasure, but only as the result of hazardous undertakings. Repairing shoes for a living, or adventure where one might possibly be eaten by an orc? The choice for most twelve year olds is quite clear! Colm works hard and makes good progress, and his loyalties and character are tested in a great twist at the end of the book.
The supporting characters are fun as well-- Serena can talk to animals, but is afraid to talk to large ones. Since those are the most useful animals with whom to converse, she has to overcome her fears. Lena is bound and determined to be the fiercest barbarian ever, and the insults that she hurls are delightful-- at one point, she threatens orcs with putting her fist down their gullets, bringing up their last meal, and making their neighbor eat it! She also wants to name her sword "Bloodgulper"! Quinn has the abillity to shoot fire out of his fingers, and occasionally his ears, but needs to learn to control his powers and overcome some of his fears. Ravenna doesn't get too much coverage in this book, but I can see her emerging as a love interest in the second book-- it's fantastic that she ends up saving Colm!
Anderson's prose is fast-paced and funny. As he did in Minion and Sidekicked, he has created unique and quirky characters who embrace the challenges thrown at them by their magical worlds. My only objection was that the world building seemed weak, mainly because the book supposes that the reader is familiar with the sort of medieval-ish setting where boys are sent away from their hamlets to seek their fame with swords. The dialogue at times sounds very modern. However, when I read other reviews of this title, I learned that the setting owes much to the Dungeons and Dragons game, or other role playing games of adventure. Since Runescape makes me cry bitter tears of frustration, I didn't understand this facet of the book. Fans of RPGs will adore this, and be quick to imagine themselves into the story.
This definitely had a Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter feel to it, and is similar to Holly Black's The Iron Trial, but with much more likable characters. Readers who want to immerse themselves in learning the tricks of the trade to adventuring will enjoy all 400 plus pages and wait eagerly for the next book. And remember-- it never hurts to carry some stimsickle weed and Magic Dan's paste when you're trying to steal treasure from orcs!
Here's more fun stuff with Mr. Anderson! Hooray for The Chronicles of Prydain, by the way!
Of the six youngish people who have read The Dungeoneers so far, four of them have asked me the following:
Who is your favorite character?
This question intrigues me because it assumes that my favorite character might not be Colm, the story’s protagonist and therefore the one I probably should identify with most. Which means either (A) I suck at creating protagonists and therefor readers have to look elsewhere for someone to root for or (B) I actually managed to pull off an ensemble cast of likeable heroes so that everyone can find someone to cheer.
The question got me thinking about the books that I’ve read and how it’s not always the main dude or dudette that stands out. Sometimes it’s the sidekick. Sometimes it’s the villain. Sometimes it’s the mentor figure or the brainiac third wheel. My favorite Star Wars character is Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker. He’s simply more interesting. His motives aren’t as clear cut. His loyalty leans more towards his friends (and his paycheck) than the righteous cause they fight for. My favorite character from Harry Potter isn’t Harry Potter, it’s Hermione, not the least of all because she solves everybody else’s problems for them and proves what science has already proved: that girls simply mature faster than boys (and are probably smarter to boot). Following her, I’m a big Snape fan. I like characters with flaws. And pasty skin.
Growing up I remember loving the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander—a series that I think has left an indelible print on my imagination. Again, a big cast of characters to support young Taran the assistant pig-keeper in his quest: There’s Princess Eilonwy, Gurgi, Doli, Prince Gwydion. But my favorite was always Fflewddur Fflam, the bard whose harp betrays his every stretch of truth by breaking a string.
Part of the appeal of fantasy stories, of course, is that they allow us to roleplay, to imagine ourselves as ax-brandishing barbarians or ice-lance casting magelings. We get to crawl inside another’s skin and traipse around another world. Sometimes we pick a skin that’s vastly different from our own just to try it on. Sometimes we pick the one that most closely resembles us. I identify with Hermione’s bookishness, Han’s smart-alecky attitude, Fflewddur’s penchant for exaggeration—qualities that I have spent years cultivating in myself. It’s wonderfully enlightening to jump into the head of someone whose experience vastly differs from my own, but I usually find myself pulled towards characters that are, in more ways than not, like me.
That’s the cool thing about books after all (or one of the millions of cool things)—how they simultaneously allow us to venture to worlds so vastly different from our own and at the same time speak to the most personal fears and joys that drive us. I don’t remember coming across a character that I didn’t relate to on some level—because those characters are simply forgettable.
So who is my favorite character from The Dungeoneers? The easy answer is that I love them all. They all represent a different facet of my personality. They each embody qualities that I admire and faults that I find in myself. I can tell you that I found Finn to be the most interesting. Quinn made me laugh the most (and cry once). Serene is the girl I’d probably end up marrying. Lena is the first action figure I would buy if they every make the book into a movie franchise.
And Colm? The hero? The protagonist? He’s awesome of course, and I love him, but it’s the same with him as I think it is with all of us: he’s made even more awesome by the people around him. For it is our impact on others that is the true measure of our worth. We are all the protagonists of our own storylines, but sometimes it’s easy to forget the huge cast of characters that help make us who we are—the parents, friends, teachers—and yes, even authors—that help shape us. So to all the characters—both real and fictional—that have helped to shape me as an author and an individual: Thanks. You’re all my favorites.