This year I am going review the books I get for my Cybils reading in a brisk and timely fashion. I will not end up with a pile of guilt.
The Brightworking, by Paul B. Thompson (Enslow, middle grade, 2012), is the first book in the Brightstone Saga. It is the story of how Mikal, the smith's son from a poor quasi-medieval village, becomes the apprentice to a mage. The guild of magic workers in this world sends out an emissary periodically to glenn any children who show signs of magical ability, and Mikal is chosen. Nothing is explained to him--he's just dragged off to the big city with a bunch of other children (attacked along the way by evil monsters of the night).
But he is magically special, and soon he finds himself apprenticed to a powerful mage; not a cozy wise old man, but a younger sort, who's potentially vicious (is it true that the statues that adorn his quarters were once living people?) and whose approach to teaching is not exactly safe.
Mikal makes an unusual discovery--a clockwork head that is a font of knowledge, answering any factual question asked it. He puts it away again without appreciating the opportunity for learning it offers, and he doesn't seem to get much direct instruction in magic from his master either. Still, he and a glenned girl, who has attached herself to his coat-tails, pick up bits of knowledge, including the disturbing rumors that Mikal's master really is no good, to the point of plotting treason. And bang! In the last few chapters of the book, there's a war, with passes in the blink of a two sentence eye...and Mikal finds himself in rather dire straights.
It's a perfectly reasonable book, even one I'd recommend, for the young reader who is just starting their exploration of the fantasy genre who needs something on the shorter side with which to build fantasy reading confidence. And it's both simple enough (structurally and in its short, direct sentences), and interesting enough, to hold the attention of the uncertain reader.
But it's not one I'd urge older, veteran readers of mg fantasy, like myself, to avidly hunt down (which, since this isn't at all the target demographic, should be construed as a critisism!). It doesn't break any new ground, and there were many details and bits of characterization that could have been pushed further, but which were left somewhat over simplified. Still, I was sufficiently engaged to read it straight through.
I think the cover does the book a tremendous disservice--it doesn't look Exciting! and Flashy Magic Filled! at all; Mikal looks like a monk, and there's something off about his profile, and the skull is just creepy. The book is much better than its cover, and I think if it had a different cover, I'd be recommending it much more enthusiastically. It's just hard for me to imagine a kid wanting to read it.
Other thoughts at For Those About to Mock: "This book seems designed with reluctant readers in mind, from the
conceptual level down to the simple, uncomplicated prose. And for that
audience, I think it's remarkably successful."
and Semicolon: " Unfortunately, the children who have been taken in The Gleaning are
attacked by Night-gaunts on the way to Oranbold. Fortunately, Mikal
finds that he has a special ability to evade magical spells.
Unfortunately, a girl named Lyra tricks him on his first night in the
guildhall. Fortunately, Lyra becomes a resourceful and loyal friend.
Unfortunately, she’s also dirty, “not entirely brave, not entirely
I could go on, but you get the picture."
disclaimer: copy received from the publisher for Cybils review