Monday, August 20, 2012

MMGM: Two Young Sherlocks

I have a confession to make: I have not actually read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Well, I read the first part of A Study in Scarlet, and then got completely bored when the scene suddenly shifted to America, so put it down and never went back.)

 But I love Sherlock Holmes! At least, I love all his various incarnations, interpreted by various writers, directors and actors. (Yes, I'm talking about Benedict Cumberbatch again, don't shoot me!)

 You would think my enthusiasm for all things Holmesian would send me back to the originals, and I'm sure I will eventually get over my mental block and pick up The Sign of Four. But I happened to be browsing the kids' section of the library for books with maple leaves on the spines (since I haven't yet done my Canadian book for August), and look what I found:

Not one, but two different series about Sherlock Holmes as a boy.

Who was the young man who turned into the brilliant, enigmatic detective? Was he always that clever and observant (and obnoxious)? How did he become an excellent boxer and violinist? Why is he so friendly with street urchins? Well, Andrew Lane and Shane Peacock set their imaginations to answering all these questions, and came up with two very different but equally plausible young versions of the sleuth.

Death Cloud, the first of Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes mysteries, has a Sherlock from an upper class, though not terribly wealthy family. His father is away in the military, and his mother is unwell, so older brother Mycroft, already working for the British Government, arranges for Sherlock to spend summer vacation with an aunt and uncle in the small town of Farnham. Mycroft also engages an American tutor with unconventional teaching methods. A couple of bizarre deaths in Farnham lead Sherlock to discover a criminal conspiracy endangering the entire country. He has some help from the tutor and his pretty daughter, and more help from Matt, an orphan living on his own. His investigations put him in danger of his life, repeatedly--curiosity and fearlessness are this Sherlock's primary traits, and he uses the logic and observational skills he has learned from Mycroft and his tutor to put the pieces of the conspiracy together and single-handedly defeat it.

Eye of the Crow is the 1st Case of Shane Peacock's The Boy Sherlock Holmes. This is the book with the maple leaf on the spine, since Peacock is a Canadian. His Sherlock is a more complex character from a much bleaker background. His mother is a gentlewoman who fell in love with a poor Jew and was disowned for marrying him. The family lives in extreme poverty in a terrible neighborhood in London, and Sherlock resents it greatly. He plays truant regularly, preferring to observe humanity in Trafalger Square and read the sensational happenings in the Illustrated Police News. Sherlock is regularly harassed by a young thief who calls himself Malefactor and his gang of street kids called the Irregulars. The case that gets Sherlock's sleuthing attention is a woman knifed to death in an alleyway, and he is driven to find out what happened when the police arrest a young Arab man who claims to be innocent. But Sherlock's investigations lead Lestrade (the elder: his son who wants to be a detective has a brief appearance) to arrest him on suspicion of working with the Arab. Sherlock escapes the Bow Street jail with the help of a beautiful girl named Irene Doyle, and has to find the real killer to prove his own innocence as well as the Arab's. He enters an uneasy partnership with Malefactor, and learns how to disguise himself and ask the right people the right questions. But the murderer will do anything to prevent Sherlock from collecting the evidence he needs.

Both novels are full of excitment: escapes, fights, spying, mysterious figures in the shadows. Both mysteries are interesting and require lots of observation and deduction to solve. Readers familiar with the Sherlock stories will recognize certain elements in each novel, which is fun. Eye of the Crow is the darker of the two books, and probably the one closer to the canon in terms of setting, psychology, and characters who will appear later. But both books are great reads and will satisfy the Holmes afficionado--or will ignite afficion in readers who haven't yet caught the Baker St. bug.

This post is a two-for-one in multiple dimensions: it's my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offering, and my Canadian Book Challenge book for August. Find marvelous middle-grade books every Monday on Shannon Messenger's great siteand find great Canadian books to read on John Mutford's awesome blog.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I haven't ranted about Megan Whalen Turner on my blog yet, have I? She's pretty well-known, so maybe I don't have to. If you haven't read The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, then drop everything else and go read them. Then you can continue with this blog entry.

So. Are you in love with Eugenides? If not, then I despair of you. I really do. But if the Attolia books are your kind of thing, then you should definitely read The False Prince. Sage is a worthy successor to Eugenides, and there isn't much else I need to say.

I love the premise of The False Prince: nobleman with questionable motives, plot to impersonate a prince, competition between orphans with life and death stakes. It reads like an epic fantasy, even though there are no fantastical elements. If conflict is the heart of story, this one's got oodles! But it's Sage's voice that raises this book into must-read status.
"I'd never attempted roast thievery before, and I was already regretting it."
Sage is funny and clever and mouthy, and excellent at getting himself into trouble. He also has hidden depths: he's not as callous as he makes himself out to be. You're constantly rooting for him and exasperated with him at the same time. The rest of the characters are all equally rounded: no cardboard villains; everyone has believable motivations, and right and wrong aren't exactly clear-cut.

This would be a great read for guys: there's fighting and plotting and sneaking around and more plotting, and hardly any romance. Girls will love Sage, and will be happy that the few female characters have "voices of their own, goals of their own, and brains. Yay!" as Sherwood Smith says in her review.

I'm excited to know this is the first book in a trilogy: more Sage to come!

The False Prince is pain au chocolat: buttery, flaky croissant wrapped around rich dark chocolate. Mmmm!

On another topic entirely, can anyone recommend a good medieval-setting YA fantasy about a witch? I'm drawing a complete blank, even though I'm sure I've read a bunch. (I can almost see their titles in the corner of my brain, but when I turn to look they're gone!)