The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis (Little Brown, November 2014, middle grade/ages 9-12)
When the Enterprising Kraken, a magical ship sailing the magical waters of the Pirate Stream, shows up in an empty Arizona parking lot, Marrill is (understandably) taken aback. And when the fates conspire to get her on board, and sailing off with the old wizard Ardent who is its captain, she is less than pleased. She just wants to get home to her sick mom. But the waters of the Pirate Stream, which connect all of creation, are not so easily navigated....
At the next port of call, the city of Kaznot, Marrill meets a young thief Fin, caught in a sticky situation of his own, and he too comes on board. He's just committed the most audacious robbery of his life, and in so doing, he's freed the mysterious Oracle, a powerful lunatic determined to bring the world to an end as he saw it happen in his prophetic visions. But Fin has a problem that matters even more to him than keeping ahead of disaster--Fin is eminently forgettable, so much so that he can meet a person every day of his life, and they won't remember him. Except for Marrill, who can, making her friendship of incalculable worth to him. She is the only person who might ever value him--unless his own mother, who left him at an orphanage when he was four-ish, still remembers....
So Marrill and Fin both want to find their way to their mothers, and the wizard Ardent's own quest might be their only hope. He is searching for the pieces of the great map that gives its user a measure of control over the Pirate Stream--if they can put it together, they can maybe find their ways to where they want to be.
But the Oracle is also looking for the map--and if he gets a hold of it, he'll be able to end the world.
The first part of the book sets things up just beautifully. Marrill and Fin quickly become people to care about. Fin, with his truly poignant curse of forgetability, is my favorite boy character in this year's crop of middle grade fantasy. The authors do a really good job presenting the problems, opportunities, and pain of his disability, and making them part of the story. And the world of the Pirate Stream is fascinating, and the quest of the map promises a nice structure for the adventure to come.
I was, though, somewhat disappointed by the actual adventuring in this first book, which basically consists of two distinct episodes of Magical Encounter on land interspersed with the Oracle showing up, and not being quite ready to defeat the crew of the Enterprising Kraken (because of having to wait until everything is happening the way his prophecies said it would). There were also confusing pirates who I found distracting (but that is a personal weakness).
Both the two magical adventures had a Phantom Tollbooth feel to them--if you like the Phantom Tollbooth, you'll probably enjoy them more than I did. I myself don't really like episodes of quirky, imaginative fun that feel to me self-consciously aware that they are offering quirky, imaginative fun. For instance, in the second adventure, which takes place in a setting so cold words freeze when they come from your mouth, the antagonist is identified as "the Naysayer" by the authors, not by anyone within the book (to the best of my knowledge). It just felt a bit too much "children having a magical adventure!" as opposed to "this is a story that is making me be right there, emotionally committed and believing in it 100%.
Despite my own reservations, I can imagine young readers being utterly delighted. And indeed, The Map to Everywhere has gotten tons of glowing reviews, which I include here for the sake of Balance:
* "Ryan and Davis' swashbuckling quest features fantastic world building, gnarly creatures, and a villain who is both spooky and formidable.... The unique details, expert plotting, charming characters, and comic interludes combine in a tantalizing read."—Booklist, starred review
* "Wholly original.... This is an ambitious undertaking, and strong readers who enjoy adventure fiction and fantasy will inhale the first book in what has the potential to be an extraordinary series."—School Library Journal, starred review
* "Vividly cast.... Multifaceted characters, high stakes, imaginative magic, and hints of hidden twists and complexities to come."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "Fast-paced and imaginative, this adventure combines action with whimsy, injecting emotion and pathos into an otherwise lighthearted romp. It's a strong start for what promises to be a highly enjoyable series."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
And here's Stephanie's review, at Views From the Tesseract, which is also glowing.
But in any event, though this one didn't work perfectly for me, I myself will be looking forward to the next installment! (Fin....what will become of you????)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher