Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein

Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein (Imprint, June 2018), is a fun adventure fantasy for the young end of middle grade; if you have a kid of ten or so who's intrigued by Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy, offer this book!

The only life young Wily has ever known has been spent down in a monster-filled maze of caverns, making traps to snare adventurers searching for his masters treasure.  Fortunately, many of the monsters are his friends, and one young hobgoblet girl, Roveeka is like a sister to him, even though he himself is a strange sort of hobgoblet, not shaped quite like all the others.  And fortunately, Wily enjoys creating puzzle and traps (cleaning up giant snail slime and pushing boulders back into place not so much).

No adventures ever make it anywhere close to the treasure.  And Wiley never goes outside.  But the boredom of this state of things is relieved when a party of adventures arrive who don't play by the rules.  The elf, the fighter with the magical detached arm, and the earth golem make it through alive, and as well as the treasure, they want to take him away with them too; his skill with traps makes him valuable in his own right

So Wily, and Roveeka, who comes too, get to see the Above world.  Though it is wonderous in many ways, it is a place of danger as well.  It is ruled by a fanatic king, who is determined to bring order to everyone's lives, kidnapping them with his mechanical minions to live perfectly structured lives in his mechanical city.  Wily and the adventures, against their will, find themselves not looking for treasure, but looking for a way to bring the tyrant down, and, along the way, to solve the mystery of Wily's parents.

The strength of the story is the charm of the found family of the two kids, human and hobgoblet, and the adventures.  The adventures are not at first interested in the kids except as a means to an end (treasure enough to escape the kingdom), but gradually strong bonds form, and that's a pleasure to read. It's also lots of fun to see the above world through Wily's eyes, but I wish his innocence had lasted longer...I think the strangeness should have lasted longer than it did.

The adventure part is fun too, and any kid who enjoys tricksy dangers and creepy creatures will be enthralled.   Suspension of disbelief is required with regard to Wily's mechanical brilliance (he manages to quickly whip together a propeller plane at one point), but it's a fantasy, so one can let that slid.

In short, it's not a particularly complicated book, and the final challenge is perhaps too easily overcome (it's a bit "voila, a happy ending!), but it has charm, and I think it's one that works well for its target audience, though I myself didn't love it enough to imagine wanting to re-read it.

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