The Artifact Hunters (Rookskill Castle #2), by Janet Fox, for Timeslip Tuesday

In The Artifact Hunters (middle grade, Viking, August 2020), Janet Fox returns to Rookskill Castle and its extraordinary children.  Though the castle is central to the story once again, this is a new adventure, with a new central character and new dangers! 

The Nazis have reached Prague, and it is no longer safe for Isaac Wolf and his parents to stay there.   Perhaps they would have, though, if it hadn't been for another evil that has arrived--an evil fey being, desperate to possess the treasures Isaac's father guards.  So Isaac's parents send him away to England, with an eternity knot pendent to be his talisman of passage leading him to where he needs to go.  They hope that they will be the target of the hunting fey, keeping Isaac safe.  And they hope as well that Isaac will be able to follow the clues that will lead him back in time, where, in the past, he will learn the secrets of the family magic.

After a strange and dreamlike journey, passing from one courier to the next along the way, Isaac makes it to Rookskill Castle, where the magically gifted kids who call it home welcome him. Isaac is struggling to make sense of his occasional journeys back in time, and is relieved to find kids who can help and support him as he finds about ancient artifacts of tremendous power that must be kept safe.....

But the fey hunter wasn't distracted, and arrives in Scotland determined to use Isaac to gain control of the artifacts. And the strong magic within Isaac has woken an enemy closer to home, who also wants to breech the walls and magical wards of the castle....It's touch and go, and things get very tense indeed!

The time travel contributes a lot to the swing of the story--each journey back into the past, Isaac learns a bit more more about what's expected of him. Though he's only back in time for very short periods, it's still enough to give the reader vivid impressions of bits of the past (an ancient British settlement, the library of Alexandria, an Incan temple, and a visit with (13-century) King Arthur were the highlights), and it's fun to follow all the clues along with Isaac.

Isaac and his friends have a lot of darkness to fight against, and the strong message here is that there is a choice--the good thing is not always the easy thing. Isaac is presented with such a choice....and though of course he'll choose the right way, it will be a tense part of the book for younger readers than me! There were lots of dangers, including some that were quite horrific in a nightmarish way (warped mechanical modifications to living creatures, including people), but nothing the target audience (give or take) can't cope with.

My one complaint that I can articulate (and it's more a personal reaction than any sort of well-articulated literary criticism) is that there are two supernatural enemies attacking the castle, which is fine. The magic artifacts become more powerful and dangerous in times of war and must, so Isaac learns, be kept especially safe at such times. But the Nazis, who are right there and who tick all the boxes of people who should be actively involved in hunting down Isaac and the artifacts aren't, despite what the blurb say ("...soon he finds himself in a race against Nazi spies..."). The fantastical villains (especially the evil fallen fey) just seemed to me something of a forced set-up, and so I found it a bit hard to be frightened or interested in the evil fallen fey. Enemy 2 had a more interesting twist related to the castle's past, so I liked it better.

An additional regret--the reader who has some general knowledge will infer that Isaac is Jewish, based on names, and "what that Nazis were doing to his people," but this isn't said explicitly anywhere (to the best of my belief) and this indirection bothered me, and I think made the book somewhat weaker than it could have been otherwise.

In any event, if you are a reader who loves friendship, teamwork, terror, and magic in an old mysterious castle, this might work well for you! I know lots of people loved the first Rookskill Castle, but it didn't quite work for me (my review) I enjoyed this one somewhat more, perhaps because of the time travel element.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the first, but it hasn't circulated well. The cover is very muted. I may not purchase this one. Sigh.


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