This book is fun and enchanting, whether you read all 321 pages and fall in to the occasional illustrations and pour over the map, or listen to the audio and get swept away. It is an AR 4.1, and the first in the three part series. Told by the point of view of two characters, the book’s short chapters and high action speed are expertly crafted to keep suspense and interest high, while maintaining solid world building events and making the character’s history come alive. There isn’t anything Islamic in the books, save some critical and cleverly named characters and ideas, but the author in interviews has said he is Muslim, and that is enough for me to share a book I thoroughly enjoyed on this blog!
Thorn is a fugitive kid, on the run from something left intentional vague and possibly the son of an outlaw. Raised on the edge of Herne forest (earth), he is good with animals, feels comfortable in nature, has a soft heart for doing what is right, and isn’t afraid of hard work. He finds himself being sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehenna, Tyburn, and is off to Castle Gloom where he will meet and befriend the new ruler of House Shadow (death/darkness), Lily.
Lillith Shadow’s parents and brother have been murdered and she is now the ruler of Gehenna. She is also still a child and events around her require her to grow up fast. To end hostilities with House Solar she is to wed Prince Gabriel, a pompous idiot, who she despises in principle and in person.
When an attempt is made on Lily’s life, Thorn and an unexpected ally, K’leef a Prince from the Sultanate of Fire, must work together to figure out who is trying to kill Lily, possibly who killed her parents, where Thorn’s father is, who is raising an army of zombies, and now how to get out of this wedding without causing continued war.
The history of the six founding houses that make up this world, and their elemental magical rules and limitations as magic dies out with each passing generation, come together and a tale is told that contrasts easy everyday language in a mystical proper world of royalty and dukes, colored by the dark of death and necromancy and shadows, while somehow remaining light, and funny, and completely relatable as the kids come of age and learn who they are and what they are capable of doing and accomplishing.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that the book is clean and that it has both Thorn and Lily’s perspectives to move the story along and give insight into the characters. I love the world building and how the history of each of the houses is so well thought out and clear.
“The whole idea of House Shadow is based on the Middle-East. Lily’s dad’s name is Arabic for the devil. Her mother’s the great villainess of the Old Testament and Lily is Lilith, a Hebrew demoness. The view people have of House Shadow mimics the fear the West has of East, and specifically Islam. For that reason all of House Solar is named after archangels. . . Some houses were easier to establish than others. House Djinn was fire as djinns are (out of Arabic lore) beings of smokeless fire. Herne’s an ancient English forest deity, so again a pretty easy fix” (http://www.cybils.com/2017/03/interview-with-joshua-khan.html).
A big plot point is that Lily is magical, and it is against ancient laws, meaning all six houses agree, that women cannot practice magic. The irony is great, in that even kids can pick up on the fact that the six brothers and founders of the magical houses acknowledge that the source of their magic comes from their mother, a woman, and the hypocrisy of it all is frustrating. I love that three very different characters have to work together, and pick their battles, it really is a testament to the strength of friendships even with people so very different than yourself.
Pretty clean, not recalling anything cringeworthy as we listened to it in the car (kids ages 3, 8, 9, 12). The book is dark in that it takes place in Gehenna and there is talk of the undead and bringing the dead back to life and they really celebrate Halloween in their own dark way. There is murder and death and assassinations, but it isn’t overly morbid or gory or violent.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think I’ve already 90% decided to start next years middle school book club off with this book. It is fun and engaging and the discussions would connect this fantasy story to so much in the kid’s lives and greater world that I get giddy just thinking about how fun a discussion it will be. Sadly the school year is wrapping up and I’ll have to wait until fall. Here are some of my favorite interviews online with the author:
Author’s Website: http://www.joshuakhan.com/