Chilton, Andrew S. The Goblin's Puzzle
January 19th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Publisher
A slave boy with no name is sent with the merchant's son to a neighboring kingdom, but when the son is killed by another slave, the boy has to decide what to do. He has always tried to be a good slave, so when another traveler, Nikola, offers to take the boy along to the silver mines to pick up cargo, he has a hard time saying no. Luckily, Nikola has a strong box that contains Mennofar, a goblin whom the boy releases because it seems to be the right thing to do. Mennofar lets the boy know that he had a narrow escape, since Nikola was going to sell him into slavery. The two work out a deal; goblins can grant requests only under duress, so the boy asks to have a truthful answer to one yes or no question every day. In the mean time, the daughter of a sage, "Plain" (and later "Just") Alice is kidnapped by a dragon, but given to an ogre when the dragon Ludwig realizes she is not his intended target. Ludwig then captures Princess Alice. The boy manages to get roped into rescuing the two by Just Alice's father, Oswald, and he and Mennofar brave many obstacles in order to get them released. The boy also tries to figure out the mystery of why he is a slave, but it is difficult to ask the goblin the right questions in order to get answers that make sense. The group discovers a sinister plot to overthrow the kingdom when Duke Geoffrey plans to force Princess Alice to marry him. Can they figure out how to stop him?
Strengths: Fairly good medieval-ish action/adventure fantasy. Well written. Nice use of the girls in the story, and the goblin is intriguing. Glad to see the cover show the boy as he is described in the book. I often find fantasy books painful to read, and this one was easy to breeze through!
Weaknesses: A bit derivative. There are so many medieval fantasy books in my library. It was disappointing that the character of color was the slave and had no name-- it would have been a nice twist to make the princess the character of color. The dialog is fairly clever, but there wasn't really any fresh twist to the standard quest/saving maidens tale.
What I really think: I do have a few more readers interested in fantasy, so will keep this in mind.
Jinks, Catherine. The Last Bogler (City of Orphans/Bogle #3)
January 5th 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Since Birdie is now living with Miss Eames, Ned is working more closely with Mr. Bunce. The plague may have abated somewhat, but soon many working children are going missing, and the newly formed subdepartment of the Sewers Department is busy. From laundry girls in a prison to telegraph delivery boys, any place of work that is in a lower level and near a drain or sewer has become a treacherous place for children to work. Harewood and Gilfoyle notice on a map that bogles tend to be frequenting the underground waterways of London, and try to work out a plan that will end the bogle problem once and for all. Bunce and Ned travel to the country to meet with the sister of Bunce's trainer and to find the origin of his spear. When they are able to replicate the spear, Ned is able to kill a bogle as well. What will Birdie, Jem and Ned, as well as Mr. Bunce, do if the bogles can be dispatched once and for all?
Strengths: The vast variety of jobs held by children in Victorian England is well-portrayed here, and very interesting. My favorite part of this is that it ties up ALL the ends very neatly, and is only three books long! There are so many small moments that add so much to this book-- Mother May scoffing when she hears that Bunce thinks the spear is from Finn MacCool, the machinations of the Sewer Department staff, the care that the orphans end up being given. My students have been reading these fairly steadily.
Weaknesses: The final reason that the bogles were eliminated seemed weak to me. I would have rather gone with an epic battle and explosions!
What I really think: Love these to a ridiculous extent and don't completely know why!