The Midnight Gate, by Helen Stringer (Feiwel and Friends, 2011, middle grade, 376 pages) is a book I would recommend at the drop of the hat to a young Percy Jackson fan. This isn't something I say lightly with regard to every fantasy quest or adventure book that comes my way, primarily because it's a facile cliche. But that aside, here's what I look for when making such a comparison.
The book has to have a similar story line--the un-ordinary child on a quest, in which the tension gets ratcheted up and up, and monstrous things menace at every turn. It is not hard to find books like this.
But the book also has to have a certain light but effectively used intelligence to it--not just in its writing but also in the richness of its detail, the distinctiveness of its characters. It has to entertain, to make me invested in the characters, to keep me wondering. In short, it has to be a book like The Midnight Gate.
The Midnight Gate is a sequel to Spellbinder, a book I enjoyed very much when it first came out, a book I bet I would have Loved if I'd read it when I was young. Here's what I wrote about it:
"Young Belladonna can see ghosts, and, even though she has to worry about talking to people her classmates can't see, it's a darn good thing that she can. [This is] because, even though her parents are dead, they are still home, taking loving care of her. Then all the ghosts vanish, dragged out of our world. And Belladonna and Steve (a tricksy boy from school, not yet a friend) are off to find out what has happened...even if it means travelling to the land of the dead, where they are pitted against the ominous forces of darkness raised by a wicked alchemist. Lots of ghostly fun, with a mysterious dark dog, the Wild Hunt, and a plucky Edwardian schoolgirl who has haunted the school since a nasty incident on the tennis court, and who keeps a stiff upper lip throughout.
An enthralling new take on the plot of chosen children facing Evil."
So it was with great pleasure that I embarked on Belladonna's continued adventures in The Midnight Gate. Two months have passed since Belladonna first found she was the Spellbinder, and she still has no clear idea what that means, or what she's supposed to do. But a malevolent power is waiting outside our world, gathering strength to enter it once more--and that power has a very clear idea indeed of just how Belladonna can be used to open the way.
Belladonna, with Steve at her side, must solve the clues held in an ancient map given to her by a ghost, find the lost items of power the map gives directions for, and journey from a foster home of great creepiness to the court of the Queen of the Abyss. Then she gets to face the really bad guys.
So. I explained up at the top why I'd recommend this to Percy Jackson fans, or anyone wanting an Exciting Read. I think this sequel one is much more Exciting than its predecessor--it's tighter, faster, and more action-filled. I enjoyed it lots, and look forward to the next book!
That being said, I think I have a slight preference for Spellbinder, primarily because of the enchantment of getting to know Belladonna's ghost parents, and getting to meet Elsie, the Very British School Girl ghost, for the first time. Although it's the monstrous questy things that will doubtless please the young Percy fans referenced above, for me the appeal of this series is the quirky charm that can be found off to the sides of the main plot.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)