Earlier this week I reviewed The Jewel of the Kalderash, third in a series whose first book I helped shortlist for the Cybils in 2008. By sheer coincidence, today's book, The Skeleton's Knife, by Joni Sensel ( Dream Factory Books, 2011, 270 pages) is also the third in a series whose first book, The Farwalker's Quest, was shortlisted in middle grade sci fi/fantasy back in 2009.
This series as a whole is excellent fantasy/science fiction that I don't hesitate to recommend to upper middle grade (and older) fans of adventure stories, especially ones who do not want anything medievally (ie, castles), or paranormal. It's both thought-provoking and entertaining. I'd recommend starting with the first one, not because this can't be read alone, but there is no particular reason to. Here's my review of The Farwalker's Quest, and my review of the second book, The Timekeeper's Moon.
When The Skeleton's Knife begins, 14 year old Ariel hopes to find peace after a series of adventures that helped bring the beginnings of civilization back to her post-apocalyptic world. But peace is not what she finds. Not only is she torn between her loyalty to old friend, Zeke, and the romantic tension that is building between her and her new friend, Nace (yes, a love triangle....), but the ghost of a man who kidnapped her and almost killed her is troubling her spirit. Gifted with the ability to travel to where she needs to go--she is a "farwalker--Ariel is led to the man's skeletal body, and finds his knife.
Instinctively she knows that she must return the knife to the place where it was made. And so, accompanied by her mentor Scarl, and by Zeke (but not by Nace), Ariel head out on another quest. This time her feet take her to the ocean, where, in a remnant fishing community, she meets new friends, who have dark secrets of their own. To free herself from the curse of the skeleton's knife, and to bring these new friends peace, Ariel must take her darkest journey yet, to a place from which no living person has ever returned.
It's always a lovely thing, to travel again with old friends! This journey did not disappoint. The fine characterization and interesting story made this just as compelling a read as the previous two books. I particularly liked the world-building in this one--the dying community where Ariel travels is a fascinating place. And, in as much as I consider Ariel, Scarl, and Zeke old friends, I was glad that they all got happy endings. True, there was the small issue of the love triangle, but it was handled well, and didn't become a nagging distraction! In fact, this one might be my favorite of the series--the story is smaller in scope, which allows for more concentration on character and slower ratcheting up of tension.
Note on age: there are dark elements in the series as a whole, and some violence, as well as the turn toward romantic entanglements (still fairly nascent, but well on their way to being more). I wouldn't rush to give these books to anyone younger than elevenish.
The first two books in the series were published by Bloomsbury, who (I'm guessing) declined to continue with this one. Thank goodness there are other options available to authors these days-- I'm awfully glad to have been given the opportunity to find out that Scarl, in particular, got a happy ending! I'm mentioning this because I don't want anyone to be deterred by worries that The Skeleton's Knife is anything less than polished and professional.
Over at The Write Path, you can find another review, and a giveaway!
(disclaimer: a copy was sent to me by the author--thanks!)
And final note--Joni Sensel is also the author of The Humming of Numbers, a historical fantasy set in early Medieval Ireland. It was think about this book last night that made me decide to create my historical fantasy list, because I wrote my review of it ages ago (here), and it's a book that many of you all who read my blog today might be glad to know about.