Friday, August 05, 2022

Guy Friday-Race to Fire Mountain (Future Hero #1)

Blackwood, Remy. Race to Fire Mountain (Future Hero #1)
(really, a group of writers from
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jarrell has a lot of trouble paying attention and school and would rather spend his time drawing. This gets him into some trouble with his teachers, especially Mr. Mordi. His parents have to work a lot, so he is occasionally home alone. His older brother, Lucas, is more athletic and doesn't have a lot of patience with him. When Jarrell forgets his key to get home again, Lucas doesn't want to let him in, and Jarrell meets up with his cousin, Omari, who is re-opening his father's barbershop, Fades. He has renovated the inside after a flood, and even hung up a lot of Jarrell's artwork! Omari introduces him to his friend, Legsy, who is very impressed with the artwork and encourages Jarrell. When Jarrell enters the VIP room, it looks oddly familiar, and after he looks into an antique mirror, he finds himself in another world! There's a red clay temple and a sorcerer, Ikala,  and a goddess, Ayana, from his drawings! Ikala wants to regain the Staff of Kundi that Ayana is keeping from him because it was made specifically to destroy him. The two fight, and Jarrell doesn't know what to do. Eventually, that scene fades, but the expression on his face lets Legsy know that he has seen into Ulfrika. Legsy then tells Jarrel that he is really Olegu, the God of Doorways, and he has created the portal. He's been looking for a true descendant of Kundi to help with this this world. Jarrell also meets Kimisi, who is Ayana's apprentice. Working with people from Ulfrika, Jarrell is able to harness his powers as an heir of Kundi to save this alternative world. Will he be able to?
Like Mbalia's The Last Gate of the Emperor, this is described as "inspired by the mythology of Africa and its diaspora" but is a more comfortable length for developing readers, like Patton's Battle Bugs series. I have never understood why middle grade fantasy books have to be so long; Lake's A Coming of Dragons and LaFever's Lowthar's Blade books are still very popular with my students, and I think it's because they are both three books series of much shorter books. The fact that this also has some illustrations makes it even better! The story zips along at a good pace, and the world building is great; I love that the portal is a barbershop! 
Weaknesses: The Pan African mythos is really interesting, but I spent an inordinate amount of time doing internet searches for all of the characters, and sort of wish it had been based on existing mythology. Of course, there are thousands of quasi Anglo-Celtic based fantasy novels, so I can't really argue! This was originally a UK release; I might have changed Jarrell's mom's job in this edition. She drives a double-decker, and now all of my students will know what that is. 
What I really think: This is a fantastic mix of easy-to-read text, occasional pictures, and a portal fantasy that will appeal to many of my 6th and 7th grade readers and will be super popular at Scholastic book fairs! It reminds me in the best possible way of Rodda's 2001 Deltora Quest series. Fans of Giles' The Last-Last Day of Summer who need something a little shorter to read will adore this one, and I see it being a really popular choice for book projects. Perhaps I should buy two copies, since someone lost the first book in LaFevers' Lowthar's Blade, and since it was in prebind and is out of print, there's really no replacing it. 

And book two is ALSO coming out on August 1st. Whooooo!

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