Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, by Kaleb Nation (Jabberwocky, 2009, middle grade/YA, 353pp), is the first of a projected series of books about a boy named Bran Hambric, an orphan deposited in a locked bank vault when he was six-years old. A small scrap of paper gave his name, but there were no other clues about his identity, and he remembered nothing from before. The banker who found him was forced by the "finders keepers" rule to take him home, and so Bran grew up in the attic of the Wilomas' home, not quite a servant but certainly far below the two spoiled Wilomas children.
In the city of Dunce, where Bran and the Wilomas live, magic is outlawed (so are gnomes). But all the bureaucracy in the world can't keep magic out--and, as the book begins, it is about to find young Bran. A terrifying night-time encounter with a monster up on the roof the Wilomas' house begins a wild few weeks of mayhem, as Bran realizes he himself can do magic. While trying to escape sinister people who seem intent on doing him harm, he learns about the dark secret of his mother's past--the Farfield Curse. Before he has had any chance to come to terms with his own abilities, he is pitted against the most formidable dark mage in the land, whose power rests on the heinous actions of his own forgotten mother.
It's impossible to write about The Farfield Curse without pointing out (not that it needs much pointing) the similarities of plot between this story and the Harry Potter books, and these are so great that some readers may find the book off-putting. Bran's mother, though, was no Lily Potter--instead, she was a criminal who had used her powers for evil. And there's no Hogwarts, so here we see much more of the unappealing family who raised the magical orphan boy.
This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, some of the most amusing scenes in the book concern the Wilomas, especially the father, and these I found diverting reading. On the other, these amusing scenes don't particularly advance the plot. After the first initial monster encounter, tension grows very slowly, and it seemed to take an unnecessarily long while (about 200 pages) for things to get going. Once things do start to happen, they do so with a vengeance, and the last 100 or so pages, by contrast, are pretty much non-stop action.
This is a promising debut from a young author (who began writing the book when he was fourteen), and I'm sure there are many young fans of "the magical orphan boy" genre who will enjoy it. Those who are looking for fantasy that takes the reader to somewhere truly new, where the world-building evokes page-turning wonder and delight, might be a tad disappointed.
You can preview the first four chapters here. This review is part of the Bran Hambric blog tour--you can find all the many other stops here at Kaleb Nation's website.
(review copy provided by the publisher)