Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Once There Was

Monsef, Kiyash. Once There Was
April 4, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fifteen-year-old Marjan is struggling after her Iranian American father's murder, but knows she has to somehow manage to continue to go to school, keep her father's veterinary practice going, and take care of herself with the occasional help of her next door neighbor and guardian. When she gets a strange visitor who demands she go to England, she decides to go on the spur of the moment. Once there, she finds out that her father was not only a veterinarian for household pets, but also for magical creatures. She meets Simon and Sebastian's family griffin, who is ailing, and finds she is able to diagnose him. She and Sebastian really connect, and text each other even after she returns home to California. She learns even more when she visits the palatial but oddly barricaded home of Horatio Prendergast to help heal his incontinent gnome. Horatio actually has dozens of magical creatures locked up, claiming that he is trying to keep them safe because the world no longer will care for them properly. His on site vet has botched the declawing of a manticore (who is NOT happy about it), and Marjan tells them what they need to do to fix it. Something's not right. Her father's murder still hasn't been solved, the vet practice isn't doing well despite the help from her father's accountant and long time friend, David Ginn, and Marjan uncovers some clues with the help of Horatio's detective, Ezra. Soon, she is reaching out to Sebastian for a plane ticket to Ithaca, where she feels something is going on. Sebastian meets her there, which is a good thing, since he can drive and she can't. They uncover a very important magical creature that is the key to many things, but which also puts them in contact with the Fells, long time brokers of magical creatures. Are they good? Are they evil? How are they and Horatio connected? Marjan tries to go home and return to school, but her friends Grace and Carrie are concerned about her frequent absences and lack of communication. 
Strengths: I read a lot of fantasy, so when I say that this was something NEW, it was quite the relief. Marjan has always had her powers, but her father was hiding things from her. She's not the chosen one, but she does have a job. There's a little bit of a quest feel, but it's more of a murder mystery in some ways, and the interplay of good and evil is delightfully gray. Is everyone evil? Who exactly is evil? I loved that Marjan was randomly left to her own devices, since her mother had also died. Is this likely to happen? Nah. But is the fact that she just up and flies to England, and then Sebastian sends her plane tickets and they meet up in the US a lot of fun? Absolutely. Even though I got a little confused, avid fantasy readers aren't going to be. They are going to eat this up, and are going to love the ending as well. 
Weaknesses: This cover was not my favorite, and the description doesn't quite do this one justice. Starting this book, I thought it would be one that I would just skim, but I ended up really liking it. Some reviewers mentioned that they couldn't quite place this as MG or YA because the character was 15. It's perfectly fine for middle school, and I think it has enough depth for high school as well. 
What I really think: This was absolutely fascinating, and would be the perfect choice for an avid middle school reader of fantasy with an interest in magical creatures. This was dark, but not overly dark, and had lots of twists and turns, which I don't want to ruin. This did remind me a bit of Coville's Into the Land of the Unicorns (1994), which I remember being a bit dark as well. Sadly, I don't think I have the readers at school for this one, so I might not purchase it, but will recommend it to the one student I can think of who will like it. I'll be interested to see what else Monsef writes. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:42 AM EDT

    Thanks for your honest assessment of this book. The cover didn't pull me in either. Carol Baldwin