Book: The Black Reckoning (Books of Beginning)
Author: John Stephens
Age Range: 8-12
The Black Reckoning is the final book of John Stephens' Books of Beginning Trilogy, following The Emerald Atlas and The Fire Chronicle. I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the series. Stephens does a good job of reminding readers of key facts from the two previous books, without slowing down the action. He also incorporates humorous passages to lighten the fairly dark overall story. This review will assume that readers are familiar with the first two books.
In The Black Reckoning, the youngest Wibberly sibling, Emma, becomes guardian of the third of the Books of Beginning, the one with power over death. The story begins with Emma having been kidnapped by the evil Dire Magnus. Her brother and sister, together with their mentor Dr. Pym and Emma's protector, Gabriel, search for her. In parallel, they strategize with dwarves, elves, and humans to fight back against their increasingly powerful adversary.
As in the Lord of the Rings movies, the primary source of humor in The Black Reckoning comes from the historical bad will between elves and dwarves. Like this:
"Please understand," King Bernard said, gesturing about with a large peacock feather (where had that come from?). "We think dwarves are marvelous at certain things--pounding bits of metal with other bits of metal, getting insensibly drunk. But large-scale strategic thinking is not really a dwarf's forte. Or small-scale strategic thinking, for that matter. Or, well, thinking--full stop." (Page 52)
Stephens also extracts some boy-friendly humor from the addition, in this installment, of giants. Like this:
"Further along the valley stood an enormous, ramshackle wooden house. It looked exactly like the sort of house that someone forty feet tall and not overly concerned with cleanliness and appearance might choose to live in." (Page 117)
But The Black Reckoning also has both suspense and heart. Stephens changes viewpoint between several protagonists, leaving them at key moments and thus building tension. He also dwells extensively on the love that various characters feel for one another, particularly the bond between Emma and Gabriel, and that between Kate and the boy who become the Dire Magnus in The Fire Chronicle.
I did find parts of The Black Reckoning to move a bit slowly (it took me longer to finish than I would have liked), but I found the characterization strong and the ending moving. Fans of the first two books will definitely want to read this one. As to the series as a whole, I think it will appeal to those who enjoy epic fantasy sagas. Now that the trilogy is complete, they can immerse themselves in all three books.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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