Friday, August 28, 2015

The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, illustrated by Peter Chan and Kei Acedera

I've had this on my to read list for a long time but I finally picked it up for a book club which needed a Wisconsin author (and then didn't finish it and didn't go to book club anyways. Ahem.) anyways, I admit that I bogged down a bit but managed to finish it, which makes me wonder if I've lost my taste for middle grade fantasy or if this just....wasn't very good.

Aldwyn is a clever alley cat, able to avoid any dangers in the medieval town he lives in. But he can't survive being chased by the most dangerous of the bounty hunters, especially when the hunter uses magic. A series of lucky occurrences and Aldwyn finds himself mistaken for a magic-working familiar and going home to a new family, which includes his "loyal" Jack, know-it-all blue jay Skylar, who has some secrets of her own, and the friendly but dim frog Gilbert. Aldwyn barely has time to settle in to his new life when there's a catastrophe of epic (and magical) proportions and he finds himself on a dangerous journey with the other two familiars to save their loyals.

There are black and white sketches, some of them full-page, throughout the book, but they don't add much to the story and are mostly forgettable. The story...well, forgettable is a kind word. Chaotic, random, clearly was not for me. It appears to be the typical quasi-feudal/medieval fantasy world with added magic, weird creatures, etc. The history sounds interesting, but it was revealed randomly and in bits and pieces that were irrelevant to the main story. The plot is vague and wandering, heavy on the foreshadowing and there are no surprises in the ending; the familiars save their loyals, Aldwyn turns out to have magic, the queen is innocent, etc. Even the building of the characters is cliched and doesn't add up. At one point Aldwyn is thinking about how he doesn't have any loyalty to his new "family" and could just leave and only a few paragraphs later he's thinking about the tight bond he's formed with Jack (in the space of....less than a week?)

It's no surprise that the authors are screenwriters since this book reads a lot like the screenplay for an animated movie - lots of quirky magical creatures and descriptions of scenery, some simple twists and turns, and a cliched ending with a soppy moral. The series itself has been optioned for a film, but is listed simply as in development, no actual release date is planned.

Verdict: Even with a movie planned, this doesn't strike me as the type of project that increases demand for the book when the movie is released; more the type of thing where people are surprised to learn it's based on a book. It's predictable, poorly plotted, and rather boring overall. However, plenty of kids have enjoyed the series and it's no worse than, say, the Warriors series or any of the gazillion and one medieval-fantasy-with-animals books out there. There are, however, quite a few of those and this is nothing particularly new. So, an additional purchase if you have a plentiful budget, demand for this type of book, or fans of this series in particular.

ISBN: 9780061961083; Published 2011 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

No comments: