The Stones of Ravenglass (Chronicles of the Red King, Book 2), by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic, June 1, 2012, ages 8 and up).
Long before the story of Charlie Bone began, a boy named Timoken fled from his African home, protected by strong magic from the supernatural enemies who killed his parents, and who seek to destroy him. The first part of Timoken's adventures is told in The Secret Kingdom, in which he finds new friends (including a lovely camel, with whom he flies through the air, and three magical leopards, as well as human companions), looses his sister, and survives attempts to kill him.
In The Stones of Ravenglass, Timoken's hope that he and his companions have found a safe haven in a British castle are shattered by the evil machinations of its steward, and Timoken is imprisoned. He and a mysterious wizard (along with Gabar, the camel) escape...and Timoken sets off on a new quest.
This time, instead of looking for refuge, Timoken will build one--a place where he and his friends can be truly safe. But in a war-torn land, safety is hard to come by...even when a friendly dragon joins your cause.
This series is, I think, extremely well suited for children on the younger side of the "middle grade" spectrum--third and fourth graders. As with the first book, there's a fairytale feel to it, a sense of events unfolding in a somewhat episodic way, a story told to the reader as if it happened long ago. It's a story filled with magic--rather miraculous magic, coming from a source external to the main character, in fairytale fashion.
In the first book, I felt somewhat distanced from Timoken as a person--here that distance is lessened, but he still seemed to me "the hero of the story" rather than a fully developed character. I think that although this might not be what I as a grown up am looking for, this might make him a very appealing hero for the younger reader--I imagine it would be very easy for such a reader to step into his shoes, and trill to his adventures.
And those adventures, although not on the grand and sweeping scale of the previous book (which might be a disappointment to that one's readers), have exciting moments of great magic (literally), and the ensemble cast of camel, kids, wizard, and dragon work well together to create an interesting story.
In short: a good one for its target audience, though not one I'd insist that the five or so grown-ups I know of who visit here looking for books for themselves (you know who you are!) get a hold of for their personal reading pleasure.
And yay! for an African boy hero, shown as such on the cover. 2012 has been a year in which multicultural speculative fantasy and science fiction seems especially thin on the ground (I have only encountered 2, besides this one*), and so I hope it does really well.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)
*In case anyone is curious, these are The Book of Wonders, by Jasmine Richards and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Please let me know of any others you've read!