Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

I've been building up a huge backlog of middle grade fiction and fantasy while I worked on other projects, but now I'm finally tackling the stack, beginning with this debut title, the first in a series, released last May.

Rye O'Chanter is an oddity in her quasi-medieval town of Village Drowning. She knows how to read, sort of, in direct opposition to Earl Longchance's orders. Her mother runs a small shop, selling magic trinkets and her father has been gone for a long time. She's not even sure where her baby sister came from. Her best friends Folly and Quinn don't fit in either, but they have their families and their friendship.

But now more exciting things than her own mysterious past are happening - the monstrous Bog Noblins are returning, the village is frightened and on the alert, and the mysterious Luck Uglies may be returning as well. Rye doesn't have time to think about her past - unless her past is part of her future as well.

Events move fast in this fantasy and monstrous creatures, terrifying people out of legends, a cruel overlord, and his complex and sometimes frightening children, pour through the story as Rye discovers the secrets her mother has been finding and that stories are more complicated than just right or wrong, black or white.

At nearly 400 pages, this is a lengthy tome and it's packed with weird words (a glossary is provided), maps, strange creatures, and a wild assortment of ideas. It's difficult to summarize because there's so much going on. It definitely draws the reader in and makes you want to know what happens next, but it's also somewhat confused and, in my opinion, could have been edited down quite a bit. I felt that Rye and especially her friends, Folly and Quinn, were set up to be important elements of the story development but there was so much going on that I never really got to know them. Some plot points wandered in and out again, like the Earl's children, and will presumably be followed up in another volume, but I would have preferred a more tightly-plotted story as a series starter.

There are some truly terrifying moments, although several instances of violence are only threatened, they're described in enough detail to move this to the upper end of middle grade in my opinion. However, some of the moralistic bits, especially the rather sententious bestowing of symbolic gifts at the end, reads much younger. The story is definitely a little different, giving a quirky, unique feel to the classic medieval adventure fantasy.

Verdict: If you have a really strong audience for fantasies, especially kids who will devour thick books and lengthy series, this would make a good addition to your fantasy selections. If, however, you just want (or can only afford) the basics, this is an additional purchase and I'd stick with the tried and true fantasy favorites.

ISBN: 9780062271501; Published April 2014 by HarperCollins; ARC provided by publisher for review

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