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The Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic by Avi- 5 stars!

Today's Tea Choice: Target Pumpkin Spice coffee

Trigger Warnings: animal abuse, child abuse, death

Genre: YA/Middle Grade fantasy

Pages: 203


IN THE DARK of winter in the town of Fulworth, an old man named Thorston has devoted his life to the illegal practice of alchemy in the quest to uncover the Great Secret: of making gold, and of immortality. Yet just as he is on the brink of a discovery, he keels over, nearly dead.

Thorton's servant, Sybil, and his talking raven, Odo, are filled with dread: will they be thrown out into the streets to fend for themselves? Their only hope is to discover the alchemist's secret and learn to make gold. And according to their master's last garbled words, the secret has something to do with a green-eyed child, the mysterious Book Without Words, and three sweet-smelling stones in the foul muck at the bottom of a cauldron...

From Avi, the 2003 Newbery Award-winning author of "Crispin: The Cross of Lead," comes the story of Thorston, an alchemist who works to concoct a potion that will enable him to live forever--and keep dying and rising from the dead as a result.

My Review:

If you've visited this blog before, you'll know that Avi is one of my favorite authors, particularly for his well-written historical fiction books. However, this happens to be a dark medieval fantasy novel that was fantastic!

What I loved:

Setting: Avi is a master at creating realistic and authentic setting details. The moment this novel starts, you are immersed into a shady little medieval village, wondering what secrets lie in Thorston's cottage. Avi also utilized sensory descriptions, such as smells (many of them bad- it's Medieval England after all), to further immerse the reader into this world.

Characters: From the start, Odo the talking raven was my favorite character! He is a shrewd little creature who only thinks about himself with funny quips. Damian was also a funny character with a lot of quick comebacks. Sybil, the main female protagonist, was another character I appreciated. Not only was she clever, but she was also determined and fearless in a difficult time for orphaned children.

Plot: When most hear the word "fable" we often think of short stories missing significant detail. However, in this fable, not only is there a lesson with other common conventions, but the plot was thrilling. Every second, you question if these young characters will be caught by the local authority, who is a harsh and greedy man. Alchemy was illegal at the time, and the children must understand the ways of Thorston's dark magic in order to survive.

Themes: One of the most prominent literary elements in this novel was theme. This novel really makes you think about life, how we treat others, and how we can overcome greed. The symbolism was also very rich and thought-provoking!

What Needed Improvement:

I'm not sure if this a problem with the ebook copy, but there were a lot of typos and formatting errors. I've read this author's work before without a problem, so I'm not sure what happened.

I also would've loved to see more character description for Sybil. While the reader clearly sees her personality through her actions, we are given sparse physical detail but other characters are described well.

There were also a lot of chapter breaks, at least every other paragraph or page, which created a distracting reading experience at times.

Authors Can Learn

- The basics of creating a fable

- How to create a dark medieval story

-The importance of sensory descriptions, especially smells, to immerse the reader

Readers Will Love This For:

A dark yet funny twist on classic fable storytelling with a determined protagonist, witty dialogue, and dark magic elements.

I give this book 5 stars!


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