Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant by Jess Black

There’s nothing like being out in the bush, thought Eve.
Eve loved hearing the bellbirds chiming and the cicadas humming. Most of all, though, she loved it when everything was silent, and all she could hear was her own breathing as we walked, the crunch of hiking books on the rough ground … and, of course, the flap of a dragon’s wings.

Eve, her friend Oliver, and her dragon Ingvar are on a bushwalk. She’s glad it’s school holidays because sometimes it’s tiring to be a Keeper of the Crystals as well as a normal 10-year-old school girl. Even so, when a mythical creature needs her, calls her, she’s more than happy to help. This time, the trio are whisked (blown) away to an island where giants live. The giant who has called Eve and her friends needs her help to bring stability back to the island where ‘creator’ and ‘rogue’ giants are fighting one another.

Eve and the Hidden Giant is the sixth in this fantastical series from New Frontier Publishing. This instalment features earthquakes and tsunamis, and warring adult giants. It’s up to the younger set, both giant and human (and with the help of a dragon) to smooth over old wounds, and forge a new peace. Trotag, a shy young giant, wants to move beyond long-held animosities and show that with some goodwill, all giants can again live in harmony. The real world bookends the fantasy, making these stories suitable for gentle souls. Recommended for newly independent readers ready for non-illustrated texts.

Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594003

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile, by Jo Sandhu

‘Weakling child,’ Maija said. ‘He will never be the man Kalle is.’
Tarin clenched his teeth. All his life he had heard people mutter and wonder aloud: How coudl Kalle and Aila, the two strong leaders of Mammoth clan, have such a weak, sickly son? It must be the bad Spirits…

Tarin’s father is the clan leader and Tarin longs to be a brave hunter, just like him. But Tarin is sickly and has a deformed leg, and people either fear him or pity him. So, when he is responsible for scaring the mammoths away, leaving the clan with no food for the winter, Tarin volunteers to carry an offering to the Earth Mother so that she may change their fortunes.Soon he is travelling alone across wild, unknown lands, facing his fears and pushing his body and mind to their limits.

Kaija and Luuka are travelling too, forced to flee when illness ravages their clan and they and their healer mother are at risk of being blamed. When their new clan grows to include two wolf cubs, and both twins are seriously injured, Tarin must reach inside himself for answers and strength to continue on.

The Exile is the first in a brilliant new fantasy trilogy for younger readers, set in an imaginary Scandinavian land thirty million years ago. Readers will enjoy this look into prehistoric lives, societies and animals, and the adventures of Tarin and his friends and will be left eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile , by Jo Sandhu
Puffin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309376

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold by Jess Black

Eve was not good at waiting.
She stood with her nose pressed against the cold glass while balancing on tiptoe on the arm of the couch. From this height she could see all the way to the corner of Stewart Street. Eve knew that this was the way her grandmother, Sylvie, would walk from the bus stop when she arrived.

Eve and her dragon, Ingvar, are waiting for Sylvie and Oscar to arrive. Sylvie is Eve’s grandmother and Oscar her friend. They’re staying with Eve while her parents are out of town. Eve, Sylvie and Oscar have had many adventures ‘and travelled to many worlds’. Eve’s not expecting any adventure or danger this visit, but she’s always prepared. Just as well, as adventure seems to find her. This time, there’s a visit from an old enemy and a griffin who needs their help in Dracburn, where one-eyed men are stealing the lining from griffin nests. While her grandmother deals with the old enemy, Eve, Ingvar and Oscar are off on a new quest.

What young girl wouldn’t want a dragon as a companion? And the ability to help other creatures in magical worlds. Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold is Book 5 in this series from New Frontier Publishing. It’s at newly competent readers wanting to be whisked away on magical adventures full of jewels and wondrous creatures. Eve is a gentle champion who works with her friends to solve mysteries and rescue those in distress. She must be brave and resourceful and overcome seemingly impassable obstacles to succeed in her missions. And she does. Then arrives home in time to spend time with her grandmother. Recommended for young readers, ready for fantastical stories.

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059830

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson

Kai sighed. The dragon haven had been his home since he was a dragonling, yet he showed no pleasure in returning.

“Gu Hong selected this place to be the home of the dragons,” he said. “She chose well. It is not so high that it is wintry throughout the year round. And no creatures can scale the sheer cliffs – not a goat, not a rabbit and, more importantly, not a human.”

At last Tao and Kai have arrived at the Dragon Haven. Now Kai can resume his position as leader, and Tao can take on the role of Dragonkeeper. But there is no big welcome, and Tao wonders if he and Kai will be made to leave, and once again face the murderous warlord, Jilong.

Although their welcome is luke-warm, the pair do their best to fit in, and even have moments of something nearing harmony with the dragon cluster. But when Jilong finds out where they are, it seems their peace will be shattered. Not only does Tao question his own role at the haven, but also whether dragons will ever be able to live peacefully anywhere in the world.

The sixth and final title in the Dragonkeeper series, Bronze Bird Tower is fabulous fantasy for readers of all ages. Tao and his friends are endearing, and the other dragons, with their different personalities, make for an absorbing cast. The twists and turns as the dragons find a way forward, and Tao and Kai seek to establish their roles, are both exciting and satisfying.

Wonderful.

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2017

 

 

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

‘I’m a messenger!’ bawled the nomad. She was even younger than the young guard, perhaps having seen only sixteen or seventeen of the harsh winters of her homeland. Her lustrous skin was acorn brown, her hair black, worn in a plaited queue that was wound several times around her head like a crown, and her dark eyes appealing. ‘I claim the message right!’

With the Abhorsen, Sabriel, and her husband the King on holidays, the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael is responsible for protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead and any Free Magic creatures. The last six months have been quiet, but two messages are coming her way. One, carried by a stranger from beyond the walls, is in danger of not being delivered because its carrier, a girl named Ferin, is being pursued by sorcerers determined to stop her. The other message, carried by a messenger hawk, is more successful in getting through. It’s from Nicholas Sayre, who Sabriel feared she might never see again. When she responds to the message she finds him unconscious, near to death. To help him heal, and to learn more about the taint of Free Magic he carries, she must take him to her childhood home with the Clayr. With Nicholas safe she must turn her attention to the other message – one which predicts great danger for the Old Kingdom.

Fans of the Old Kingdom series will be delighted with this latest installment, featuring favourite characters including Lirael, Sabriel, Nicholas and Sam, alongside new ones. Nix seemingly weaves his stories with the magic that is found in his world. The Old Kingdom is a richly woven setting, and the people and beings that populate it are intriguing. This is deeply satisfying fantasy at its very best.

With a bonus Old Kingdom story, Goldenhand is divine.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758634

 

Also in the Series:

Sabriel
Lirael
Abhorsen

Clariel (Prequel)

Star of Deltora: The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda

She hurried to the porthole and looked out. The sky was filmed with cloud through which the sun glowed sullenly, casting an eerie yellow light. The sea was dull and oily-looking. At first she could see nothing unusual. And then she began to pick out dark shapes beneath the surface of the water, many, many dark shapes, and as she realised what they were, the hair on the back of her neck began to prickle.
‘Turtles!’ she whispered.

Although the Star of Deltorahas managed to escape Illica, Britta is still in danger. She must stay in her cabin, safe from the moody distrust coming her way from the ship’s crew, who think she is a witch and the reason the voyage has been beset with problems. In spite of Britta’s protestations, the ship is being surrounded by turtles, seeming to want to steer the ship. Britta soon realises that the Staff of Tier has sensed her, and wants her to come to the Hungry Isle. Could it be that her secrecy has lead her and her friends, including Trader Mab, into terrible danger?

The fourth title in the Star of Deltora series, The Hungry Isle provides a gripping climax to the journey that Britta and her fellow would-be Trader’s apprentices have been on. Britta has managed to keep her true identity – as the daughter of the hated Dare Larsett – a secret, but when everything hangs in the balance, the secret is no longer hers to keep.

Best read after the first three titles, The Hungry Isle is a satisfying conlusion to the series.

The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991337

The Twins of Tintarfell by James O’Loghlin

When Dani was woken by the cock’s crow, she heaved herself out of bed, dipped her hands in the jug of water that stood on the wooden bedside table, stepped over to Bart’s bed and shook his shoulder.

‘Ma … nurrrr,’ grumbled Bart, rolling away.

‘Come on,’ said Dani. As usual, that didn’t work, so she cupped his cheeks in her cold, wet hands.

‘Or … gonks,’ cried Bart. His eyes flew open and he pushed her hands away.

‘Come on,’ repeated Dani.

Bart reluctantly swung his legs onto the floor. ‘You could have just shaken my shoulder.’

When Dani was woken by the cock’s crow, she heaved herself out of bed, dipped her hands in the jug of water that stood on the wooden bedside table, stepped over to Bart’s bed and shook his shoulder.

‘Ma … nurrrr,’ grumbled Bart, rolling away.

‘Come on,’ said Dani. As usual, that didn’t work, so she cupped his cheeks in her cold, wet hands.

‘Or … gonks,’ cried Bart. His eyes flew open and he pushed her hands away.

‘Come on,’ repeated Dani.

Bart reluctantly swung his legs onto the floor. ‘You could have just shaken my shoulder.’Ma

Dani and Bart are twins. They are servants in Tintarfell Castle and have lived there for as long as they remember. Dani’s the thinker, Bart has an uncanny empathy with animals. Prince Edward is their age, not all that bright and less than excited about being prepared to defend his kingdom. When Bart is kidnapped, Dani’s is sure they intended to kidnap the prince. Once beyond the walls of the castle, each of the three young people discover that their world has included many half-truths about their history.

‘The Twins of Tintarfell’ is a fantastical story about secrets, ambition, magic and more. The baddies are bad, the goodies are in short supply and there’s plenty of action whether or not the characters are looking for it. It tests the bounds of familial ties, and stretches beyond them. As is appropriate in medieval adventures, much bravery is needed. Recommended for mid-primary readers

The Twins of Tintarfell, James O’Loghlin
Macmillan 2016
ISBN: 9781743548097

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Princess Betony Series, by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

“Mother,” she hissed, but her mother didn’t hear. The shadowy figure set out across the terrace and down to the lawn below, heading across the grounds.
Betony’s breath caught in her throat.
Her mother was going into the Dark Forest of Nevermore. She was leaving.

Princess Betony adores the queen, her mother, and knows that her mother loves her, too. But her mother is a dryad, a tree spirit, and misses the Dark Forest. And with the Lord Chancellor, the King’s chief advisor, making life very difficult for the queen, Betony is worried she will lose her to the forest. So, when she sees her mother disappear into the trees in the middle of the night, Betony follows her, even though she knows it is dangerous. She will do whatever it takes to get her mother back – even catch a unicorn.

Princess Betony and the Unicorn is the first of four adventures featuring the adventurous, feisty but loyal Princess Betony. First published in 2012, its has been re-released along with the other three titles. Each features a magical adventure and is beautifully illustrated with grey scale illustrations on each spread, and charming cover designs.

Suitable for young fantasy lovers and those new to the genre, these are gorgeous books which will be treasured.

Princess Betony and the Unicorn (ISBN 9781925381023)
Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg (ISBN 9781925381030)
Princess Betony and the Rule of Wishing (ISBN 9781925381047)
Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin 9ISBN 9781921720260)
Walker Books, 2016

Goblin Mafia Wars by DC Green

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

PT is a sixteen-year-old human and king of Monstro City. Well, sort of. He and the Dead Gang (his monster mates include a giant spider, a mummy, a goblin and a shapeshifting vampire) have completed their first quest and survived. (in ‘Monster School’). Now they are in Dead Zone trying to find their way out. If they can avoid being consumed by dead things. Then it’s off to find and protect dragon eggs. No big deal. All that’s at stake is the survival of the world. The misfit crew have to find a way to work together and repel all manner of enemies from goblins, ogres, zombies and even family. Each new chapter is accompanied by full page black and white monsters.

Goblin Mafia Wars is punny and funny, wild and raucous. Every friendship group encompasses a range of skills, appearances and passions, but nothing you’ve experienced will prepare you for this gang – but perhaps that’s what people think about your friendship group. The best ‘gangs’ include a range of skills and attributes. This is no quest for the queasy – PT and his mates will encounter danger after danger in their search for the dragon’s eggs. They’ll also encounter plenty of craziness. Goblin Mafia Warsis a rollicking read and will be enjoyed by upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

Goblin Mafia Wars, DC Green
Ford Street Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925272208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com