Something about Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Revenge called to me from the pile of books arriving on my shelf. And I'm glad that it did. Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Revenge is an engrossing new, riddle-filled middle grade fantasy, apparently the first book of a series (two significant matters are left unresolved, though the book does not end on a cliffhanger).
Gabriel lives with his aunt in a somewhat mysterious old house. His mother disappeared when he was very young (he doesn't remember her), and his father disappeared three years earlier. Gabriel's aunt won't tell him very much, but he knows that she never reported his father as a missing person. When Gabriel turns 12, however, his aunt gives him a key that his father left for him, which leads in turn to a diary. The plot from there involves people who can merge with ravens, a powerful ancient artifact, and a quest to find a lost city located far beneath Gabriel's home of Brooklyn, NY. Other characters include a callous bad guy (Gabriel's uncle), a greedy rival who also seeks the artifact, a team of kids who befriend (some more quickly than others) Gabriel, and various intelligent birds.
Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Revenge is chock-full of riddles and puns. Some are there just as background, as Gabriel practices, but eventually the riddles become a key aspect of the book's plot. It seems that ravens greet one another with riddles, and use riddles as a litmus test for potential human companions, and more. Kids who enjoy riddles and puns will not be able to resist this book, which offers ample opportunity for readers to guess the outcome of each before reading it. I only very occasionally found that stopping to think about the riddles slowed the book's narrative flow for me. Here's an example:
"From hour to hour I wander,
As night and day go by,
Yet always anchored to my home.
Can you guess the reason why?"
Despite the seeming light-heartedness of a story based in part on riddles, Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Revenge is a fairly meaty fantasy novel, with plenty of twists and turns and sub-plots. There are some sections in which Gabriel reads from his father's diary to which I had to pay close attention to keep Gabriel separate in my head from his dad. But these passed. Gabriel's regular world, in which he attends school and eats Chinese take-out, never quite feels ordinary, perhaps because all of the characters around him are quirky in some way.
There is some character development in the secondary characters (Gabriel is a pretty well-adjusted kid to start with). I especially enjoyed Gabriel's new next-door neighbor, Abby, a girl who wears non-matching shoes every day, so that she won't look like everyone else. Here's Abby:
"This is so exciting! I always get into trouble for trying to make things more exciting at home. The other day I painted the toilet with glow-in-the-dark paint, my sister woke everyone up screaming when she went to pee in the middle of the night." (Page 101)
I found Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Revenge to be a suspenseful, inventive middle grade fantasy novel, with a unique feel. I do wish that the cover image of Gabriel merging with his raven did not look quite so much like a girl, as I would hate to see boys pass this one buy because of that (for many reasons). Then again, the cover caught my attention, so it does work. Anyway, librarians for middle grade and middle school readers will want to give Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Curse a look, as it offers something new for fantasy lovers (and others who enjoy testing their wits). Recommended for middle grade readers and up, boys and girls.
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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