Hughes, Devon. The Battle Begins (Unnaturals #1)
October 6th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there
Castor and his brother Runt are living with their pack on the ground level of a society where the air and environment has become poisoned enough that the well-to-do live in the sky. Marcus is one of these people, living with his parents and enjoying watching the Mega Monster Mash-up tournaments that have become popular. Even though his older brother, Pete, works as a medic for the animals, he thinks that these are virtual fights, and that the animals are not real. Leesa, however, knows differently-- her chihuahua, Pookie, was stolen and turned into a chihuahua/spider mix who fought in these televised battles. Castor also finds out how real these events are after he is stolen from the streets and experimented on until he becomes a dog/eagle mix and starts to train for the fights. Living alongside creatures like octopus/elephant mixes, Castor has to decide if he will turn into a killer or remain true to himself. With the help of the humans, the animals investigate ways that they might be able to break free for the horror of the games and make it to the elusive Greenplains.
With its mix of fighting mutants and Dystopian setting, The Battle Begins has a lot of action and adventure. There are alliances, but human and animal, that need to be forged and then reexamined. There are vast conspiracies that are tantalizingly mentioned yet not quite resolved. Who exactly is making money off the fights? Why does Mayor Eris support them so much? Why are people kept out of the Greenplains?
I was surprised at the amount of character growth exhibited by Castor and the other animals. Castor is used to surviving in the wild, with his pack, but being brought into the Unnaturals makes him examine who he really is. Pookie serves as a cryptic adviser, and the two read Charlotte's Web together. Castor even tries to convince the other Unnaturals to fight the system and remain true to themselves. The humans also learn more about the society in which they live and their place within it. This philosophy is balanced well against the action, so never slows down the book.
Clearly, this series will appeal to fans of Hunter's Warriors books, and I've even seen blurbs saying that it will appeal to Animorphs fans, although considering that no new books in that series have been published for almost fifteen years, I doubt there are many young readers who are familiar with those!
Verdict: This series promises to be a nice mix of elements: Dystopia, animals, and games as well. Buying.
Flanagan, John. The Tournament at Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years #1)
October 6th 2015 by Philomel Books
This takes place after one of The Lost Stories-- Halt and Crowley have been dismissed and are on the run, King Oswald has been captures, and Duncan is pillaging the country side. But of course, he's not; it's an imposter. With the help of Leander, the two start to round up other Rangers who have gotten the boot from the evil Morgarath and head to a tournament back in Araluen so they can set things right. Do they? Yes, but Morgarath escapes, so we are all set for book two in this prequel series to The Ranger's Apprentice.
You need to buy a copy RIGHT NOW. Anything by Flanagan has been freakishly popular in my library for years. There's something about the Rangers hanging out in the woods, being friends with their horses, drinking coffee after having to sit in the rain for days-- it's just so much fun to read!
My copy came from the public library just before I left for Kidlitcon, and I taunted one of my runners with it. He BEGGED to borrow it, promising nothing bad would happen to it, and had it back in two days. My only regret was that I wasn't able to read it in the summer, sitting on the front porch. That's just nirvana for anyone who loves medieval adventures with engaging characters. Sigh.