Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

gabrielGabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen, published in August 2014 by Schwartz & Wade.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: borrowed from a friend.

Genre: middle grade urban fantasy.

How can twelve-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father… or to his death. (Goodreads)

* * *

My rating: 3/5.

I’ve been putting this review off for weeks. I don’t really know why, except it’s probably one of those average reviews that I dislike writing so much.

This is an interesting middle grade novel, but it reminds me too much of Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins – there’s a missing father and a boy who must save him, a secret underworld where the lurks, and animal friends. Why, WHY is everything so derivative these days?? (I recently had a problem with another book that reminded me strongly of something I’ve read before.)

But it has some bright moments – first of all, I liked the friendships between the young characters. They’re both boys and girls and there’s nothing romantic going on at all (whew, finally!), and they’re all quirky in their own innovative ways. The adults are interesting as well – and not at all absent as is common in adventure novels for kids (you know the kind – where the kids seem to function without any parental supervision, right?). And Hagen puts in some nice phrases such as this one: “We know where the best saffron blooms grown, where wolves nurse their young, where elephants go to grieve.” I don’t know why, but this quote stuck with me as I pictured these magical places.

There are even some birds with lovely personalities – all sarcastic and cynical. But I don’t know that I can forgive Hagen for making robins collaborate with the evil side – they’re my favourite birds (I liked them best even before I read and fell in love with The Secret Garden). This relationship between the ravens and their human counterparts is a fine thing indeed: “Magic between two minds is a mysterious thing. It happens quite simply, or not at all. Like friendship. Or love.

While the writing is good and vivid (as evidenced above), it sometimes slips into an overly didactic mode. I dislike this in children’s literature, but that might just be my problem. Anyway, here’s what I mean: “Eventually, however, they found a large room paved with flagstones. There was an arched doorway with a portcullis – a heavy gate that could be raised and lowered with a chain.” Why use the big word at all if you then condescend to the kids by explaining it to them?

As a sidenote: this novel is definitely a translator’s worst nightmare. As the title indicates, it’s chock-full of riddles and puns (some good ones and some that are deliberately atrocious), so I don’t even want to imagine how much work the translation would be to make the text sound alright in a foreign language…

All in all, this is a rather good urban fantasy adventure for kids who like Suzanne Collins, mysteries, birds, and riddles. If you know such a kid, by all means, recommend this book to them! :)

* * *

Have you read any good middle grade novels lately? 

I haven’t read that many in the past months and I’m thinking this could be another challenge for next year (along with something classics-related).