Book: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den
Author: Aimée Carter
Age Range: 8-12
Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimée Carter is the first of a new series about a 12 year old boy, Simon Thorn, who learns that his ability to talk with animals is actually part of something much bigger. Simon has lived for as long as he can remember with his uncle Darryl, receiving only monthly postcards and extremely rare visits from his mysterious mother. Simon has been attempting to hide his new ability to talk to animals from everyone, including Darryl. But when a one-eyed golden eagle warns him that his life is in danger, Simon soon finds himself on the run, uncovering both secrets and relations left and right.
There's no question that Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den includes some fairly well-established middle grade fantasy tropes, right down to the existence of a secret school for animalgams (people who can shift into an animal form at will) and the importance of a small crew of friends. But I still found Carter's approach and world-building to feel fresh and accessible. There's a nice mix of interpersonal issues (family, bullying, betrayal), mystery (who to trust), and action which will keep kids turning the pages. Here's a snippet of the world-building:
"... Malcolm muttered a curse under his breath and pushed open the heavy door, revealing a dark hallway that looed ore like the entrance to an old castle than a school. The walls were made of stone, and a wrought iron chandelier hung above them. The low light gave the building an eerie feeling, and a chill crept down Simon's spine. Worse, while framed paintings of all kids of animals, from mountain lions to vipers to a dolphin that looked like an older version of Jam, lined the hallway, there weren't any portraits of birds." (Chapter 8, ARC)
The characters are interesting and three-dimensional. I especially liked Darryl, whose love for and loyalty to Simon come across every time he appears on the page. The characters tend to reflect their animal natures even when they are in human form, but they also have other personality traits, like the book-loving dolphin boy, Jam.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den would be a good choice for kids who enjoyed the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, though it reminds me even more of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's Magisterium series, with its mix of riddles, dangers, and unusual abilities. The Simon Thorn series is an appealing addition to the ranks of middle grade fantasy series. I look forward to Simon's future adventures. Recommended for kids age 8 and up, with enough complexity to please teens and adults, too.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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