I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, but I do try to keep up with what is being written. I have more readers this year who read fantasy, and (like girls who read romance books) they read about a book a day. Still, when I spend most of a Sunday working my way through over a thousand pages of fantasy explanations that involve a glossary and made up words... I get a little fractious and begin to think that the author secretly meant me some personal harm. On the upside, reading these made me more amenable to purchasing Wexler's The Forbidden Library series.
That said, I loaned the paperbacks I had of these to about ten readers. They invariably returned them the next day and wanted more. Ah, hard core fantasy fans. I don't really understand. Must go read some Beany Malone books now!
Sanders, Ted. The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1)
March 3rd 2015 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central
Horace sees a shop on his way home from school that looks like it has his name on it, but when he investigates, he realizes it says "House of Answers" instead of "Horace F. Andrews". It's still an unusual place, and he meets Mrs. Hapsteade and Mr. Meister, who run it. He is given a box that makes him feel rather odd, and is soon being pursued by the evil thin man, Dr. Jericho, who calls him a tinker and threatens him. The box appears to make objects travel through time, and Horace isn't entirely sure what its purpose is until he meets Chloe. She is the Keeper of a dragonfly pendant that gives her the power to become "thin" and go through objects. Horace finds out that he has been recruited to bond with the box, a Tanu, which has properties that aren't quite magical, but aren't quite real, either! He is not just a Tanu'ji, but a warden as well, and he, Chloe, and the people from the House of Answers are all engaged in a battle against the Riven, who are trying to get the Tanu for themselves and use them for evil. While Horace's parents are very present and supportive, Chloe's dad has been neglectful and drunken ever since Chloe's mother left, so she is grateful to find refuge in the Mazzoleni Academy that Mr. Meister runs. Along with fellow students Gabriel and Neptune, the group fights the Riven in order to rescue Chloe's father. In the end, Horace finds out that his mother may be involved, and that the Mothergates, that power the Tanu, may be dying.
Readers who enjoy Black and Clare's The Iron Trial, Wilson's Ashtown Burials series, or Steampunk fantasty stories that involve a lot of gadgets will enjoy this well-developed fantasy world and trinkets and language that are integral to understanding it. The Tanu and the Tanu'ji are very complex, and the way they are developed and bonded together will delight any reader of high fantasy who believes that the line between technology and magic is very thin.
While Chloe's parents are largely absent, it was delightful to see Horace's mother and father give him a hard time about things like losing his house keys. To then have his mother be a part of his fantasy world was fascinating. Given the small number of parents who actually survive in middle grade books, I can see this being a popular choice with families who like to read books together.
Sanders, Ted. The Harp and the Ravenvine (The Keepers #2)
March 1st 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central
While Horace and Chloe are refining their own powers in regard to their Tanu, we meet April, who has found an odd piece of jewelry that seems to give her the power to understand animals. The piece seems broken, and when Isabel shows up claiming that April needs to find the other part of it, April doesn't blink before packing up and agreeing to travel to Chicago with her, especially since she has a run in with one of the Riven. Horace finds out more about his mother's involvement-- she is not a Tanu'ji, but a Tuner. She can play on harps, but none of them bend to her power. Horace also meets Brian, who has been living in the Academy for three years and can fix or create magical implements. April and Isabel are having a lot of problems making it the short distance into the city-- they have Joshua, a young boy with excellent directional abilities, with them, but he breaks his leg. To complicate matters, Mr. Meister can sense that April and her group are coming to meet them, and the rest of her Ravenvine is in Horace's possession. Whenever he puts it in his box, it disappears for a while, freaking April out. Eventually, the two groups meet, and secrets about Chloe's past are revealed, as well as more details about the involvement of Horace's mother. The Riven are still a threat, Isabel is perhaps more evil than she is good, and the Tanu are still in jeopardy from their fading power source.
The magical objects in this series are so intricate and convoluted that there is a glossary at the back of the book-- and I had to consult it several times! Readers who like the complicated worlds of Tolkien, or who have memorized all of the spells in Harry Potter, will enjoy making their own Tanu out of household and craft items and recreating scenes from this book, while coming up with their own Tanu and working themselves into future plots. Sanders must have masses of notes in order to keep everything straight!
While we learn a little more about the Riven and why they are trying to get the Tanu back, the new characters of April and Isabel are added in a very interesting way, and I enjoyed the fact that we aren't entirely sure if Isabel is good or evil. I'm not sure she knows herself! I'd be very interested in learning more about the Mazzoleni Academy and seeing what the Keepers can do to keep the Mothergates from running out of power. Certainly Mr. Meister will be very helpful at finally putting the threat of the Riven to rest!
If you get these books for your favorite readers, make sure that they are accompanied by a small harp, some yarn, and several fun objects that can be made into Tanu!