Last fall I introduced you to S. E. Grove and her fresh, complex, and unique high fantasy series geared to middle grade readers. Before you turn away, saying you don't read middle grade, remember that Harry Potter was also written for a young audience.
As I said last fall when I reviewed The Glass Sentence, the first book in the proposed trilogy, Grove's fully realized characters and her world building are tops, and I'm particularly happy to say there's no love triangle and no teenage angst. The cast is a nice mix of males and females of a range of ages and with a variety of abilities. Plus, I promise you haven't read a series like the Mapmakers.
(Note: this review assumes you've either read the first book or have read my earlier review.)
General information: The Golden Specific starts about nine months after first book ends. Sophia Tims is still living in Boston with her uncle Shadrack, master cartographer. Their ward, Theo, has just returned from the Eerie Sea, after an unsuccessful trip to find information about Sophia's missing parents. Meanwhile Boston and all of New Occident are undergoing political upheaval, Shadrack is worried about the border closings, and Sophia is tracking down new leads to her parents' whereabouts.
Dual stories: Very soon into the start of The Golden Specific, the story splits in two. Sophia, has gone undercover to gain access to a restricted library, which contains books that reference her mother. Those documents prompt the girl to take a sea journey to the Papal States (what used to be Spain), where she hopes to find a diary with more information. She is supposed to meet Theo at the docks, but he is detained when Shadrack is imprisoned for murder. At that point, Sophia and Theo have separate adventures.
No sophomore slump: Grove's brilliant decision to give her main protagonists their own plot lines keeps the series fresh. Theo and Sophia must rely on their own wits and luck to meet their individual goals. Sophia is still focused on finding her parents, which takes her to new worlds and introduces her to three new people, each of whom is from a different age with different personal agenda. Theo's main purposes are to prove Shadrack's innocence and to expose the evil underbelly of a high-ranking government official. Along the way, he meets a clever girl and a wily street urchin boy, both of whom offer assistance. Interwoven throughout the book are extracts from Sophia's mother's diary, which gives the reader information not yet known by Theo and Sophia.
What I love: There are new worlds to explore, new people to meet, puzzles to solve, and mysteries to uncover. I love the legends and stories we learn, and I enjoy trying to piece together the clues that Theo and Sophia find. In addition, I thought it was great to be able to read Sophia's mother's diary; it's always fun to see how the protagonist discovers solutions when you have a little foreknowledge. I also like the fact that Grove's characters can make mistakes, can be scared, can cry, and often need help. And I love how Sophia and Theo are genuine friends. Finally, I'm glad to see that Grove has allowed Sophia and Theo to grow and mature; each one sees the world and themselves a little clearer by the end.
Recommendation: The Golden Specific and the Mapmakers trilogy is for anyone who wants to be transported to a world they've never seen before. There is no age limit to these books, which means they'll appeal to children and adults who like high fantasy, alternate history, and just plain good reading. Everything works in S. E. Grove's universe: the action, the characters, the unique maps, and the world divided by time. I can't wait to see where the third book will take us.
Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of The Golden Specific (Listening Library; 15 hr, 19 min) read by the wonderful Cassandra Campbell. Her characterizations capture the personalities of each character perfectly: Theo's self-assurance, the housekeeper's worry, Sophia's inherent trust and insatiable curiosity. Campbell's pacing is spot-on, carrying us along when the action picks up and giving us room to contemplate new information when the gang is working out the meaning of new clues. A fantastic audiobook experience. Click the play button in the following widget to hear a sample:
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers, 2015
Source: Review (see review policy)
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