Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen. Illustrated by Scott Bakal. 371 p. Schwartz + Wade Books/ Random House Children's Books, August 26, 2014. 978-385371032. (Review from arc courtesy of Books, Bytes and Beyond)

Riddles, ravens and writing desks. No, we have not wandered into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but a unique and wholly original story of parallel universes and human/ bird bonding. Twelve-year-old Gabriel Finley lives with his Aunt Jaz in Brooklyn ever since his father disappeared without a trace three years earlier. Fledgling raven, Paladin lives in a nest not far from Gabriel with his mother Endora, who is constantly vigilant against attack by nefarious valravens. The walravens wish to kidnap Paladin for Corax, who also happens to be Gabriel's uncle. Gabriel has never met the man as he disappeared long before Gabriel was born. He is pure evil, half-man, half-valraven and intent on obtaining a magical torc, necklace, which grants the wishes of its handler. 

Gabriel is bright and likes nothing better than a good riddle. Indeed, he wishes he could make a living solving riddles. He is also a bit of a bully magnet. Well, one bully actually, Somes seems intent on making his life miserable. He's also bummed to learn that his best friend, Addison is moving. He's startled to discover that he can communicate with ravens. He learns from his father's diary that his dad too, was a raven's amicus. Upon his twelfth birthday, Gabriel receives a key. He also receives some unwelcome roommates. But the girl who moves into Addison's house seems a promising friend.

It seems that Gabriel and Paladin were destined to bond and Corax knows that they are the key to obtaining the torc. The story shifts points of view and with that and Mr. Finley's diary entry, the reader slowly puts the pieces together.

Unbearably suspenseful and utterly captivating, middle grade fantasy lovers will just eat this one up chuckling at the riddles, word play and rambunctious writing desk along the way. This story is compared to The Phantom Tollbooth in the publisher's online description. A blurb by Norton Juster graces the front cover. I can sort of see it. To me, it has a more sinister Alice in Wonderland vibe. Fans of Gregor the Overlander will enjoy it as well even though Gabriel and his companions don't spend that much time in Aviopolis.

Speaking of covers, it initially didn't appeal. It grew on me a bit though. When I featured it on a Friday meme, most of the comments complimented the cover, so I am in the minority. It certainly lends itself to the possibility of a remarkable book trailer. I hope one is being planned. This is the author's children's debut. Here's a link to his website.

Thanks to Mary and Trish from Books, Bytes and Beyond for the opportunity to read this arc. You ladies are always spot on. This is a 2014 favorite.

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