FIC PER (Reviewing “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms”)

So I’m not sure if it was a change in schedule/routine around our home, my anxiety brain, or the book itself, but I had a really difficult time finishing “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms” by Jamar J. Perry. The book itself was wonderfully middle grade and features an all Black cast of characters, which seems to be unusual for currently published middle grade fantasy novels (which SHOULDN’T BE THE CASE). I’ll lay down a quick summary and then give you my disappointments and delights as always.

Book cover with purple background with magical window of a city with flying creatures over it. In foreground, a boy stands with a floating, glowing, magical book. Gold text reads "Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry".
Book cover of “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms”

Cameron Battle grew up reading and treasuring The Book of Chidani, a storybook about an African kingdom that removed itself from the world to save its people from the transatlantic slave trade (think Wakanda vibes, but magic instead of tech). The Book, passed from generation to generation in Cameron’s family, is precious to him as it’s one of the few reminders he has of his parents, who disappeared and were considered dead two years ago. Since their disappearance, his grandma has kept the book locked away in the attic. But during a thunderstorm, the power goes out and he and his friends Zion and Aliyah open the attic to find the electrical panel, but instead find themselves sucked into the book and transported to Chidani, where they learn that the kingdom is in grave danger and that Cameron is the last Descendant, brought to Chidani by the Book to save the kingdom (and the wider world) from destruction. Cameron and his friends find themselves set on a quest to recover the Queen’s three gifts from the Gods, stolen by her own sister, who wants to remove the barriers surrounding the timeless kingdom of Chidani.

3 Defects

  1. For me, the text moved both too slowly and too quickly. Too slow in the beginning – the exposition, which I usually don’t mind in a book, was longer than I felt it needed to be, but also sometimes too fast – sometimes I wanted more depth to the challenges they faced along the journey and more thought into what happening to the characters and their feelings and emotions.
  2. There was a lot of repetition in this book, to the point where some of the ideas/facts were hammered in so often, it became annoying to me as an adult reader. It was a similar feeling to the one I experienced when reading “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” where I kept saying “Okay, Harry, I get it. Draco’s horrible and he’s doing something bad”. I felt like saying to Cameron during this book “Okay, Cameron, I get it, your parents are dead, you don’t want to be here, you don’t want your friends in peril, etc.” But for a pre-teen reader, this may not bother them in the same way. If they’re an avid fantasy reader, though, and they enjoy tackling things like Riordan or Rowling novels, this may lead to them feeling #3.
  3. The story felt “awkward” to me sometimes – the action didn’t flow in the way that I want a fantasy novel to flow. Sometimes things felt stilted or you weren’t sure what the POV was or where the magic was happening. And this might also be impacted by too many characters and/or world building that felt “unnatural” or rushed in some ways.

3 Delights

  1. A full Black/African cast of characters in a fantasy novel! Whooo! It’s sad that this is unfortunately an “oddity” and not a norm, but for a kid who’s looking to see a representation of themselves in a fantasy novel, this is fantastic!
  2. West African mythology is represented in a way that makes me want to learn more outside of the text on my own, but presented with enough information in the text that I know enough of the mythology that I can understand the gods/goddesses in the way the novel needs me to.
  3. Magical fighting styles, physical trials, special powers, hero’s journey type trials are all there. It makes the book rather action packed and would be a good hand off to readers who enjoy Rick Riordan or CS Lewis.

FIC VED (Reviewing “The Bone Spindle”)

So… this post isn’t going up on a Sunday. Oops. Blame the 100+ assignments I graded and the Benadryl I took.

This week’s read was the genre where my heart and soul lie: YA fantasy! “The Bone Spindle” by Leslie Vedder is a gender-bent, queer positive retelling of Sleeping Beauty that’s mixed with a little Noah Wyle “The Librarians” style magical archeology/anthroplogy.

Gray background covered in thorns and roses. In foreground, two young women, one in a white shirt with braided hair holding a large ax over her shoulder and the other, in a sleeveless blue shirt, has her short hair pulled back and a leather messenger style bag slung over her shoulder. Text in fron of them reads "The Bone Spindle" in gold lettering.
Cover Image of “The Bone Spindle”

In Vedder’s twist, 100 years have passed since the Kingdom of Witches, Andar, fell to the Spindle Witch, one of the Four Great Witches who was spited by the royal family. In order to try and prevent the complete collapse of the kingdom, the other three Great Witches placed Prince Briar Rose (and the entire court) under a sleeping spell until the Spindle Witch’s curse could be broken. Since Andar’s fall, witches have been hunted and persecuted (and as we learn, hidden by those who are sympathetic to them) and treasure hunters, witch hunters, and anthropologists/archeologists have rifled through witch strongholds, preserving and/or destroying the books, treasures, and magical artifacts found within.

The adventure starts when the two main characters, Lady Filore Nenroa (called Fi) and an ax-wielding hunstwoman named Shane, meet over an ancient map that shows the location of a witch’s sanctuary that hasn’t yet been discovered and destroyed by Witch Hunters. But when Witch Hunters overhear and then target the two young women, it forces them to flee through the wilderness. When they eventually reach the witch’s stronghold on the map, it proves to be more than meets the eye and Fi finds herself pricked by the same Bone Spindle that cursed Briar Rose, setting into motion her Fate to be the one to wake Briar Rose from his sleep. Although Fi is determined to take on the journey on her own, Shane (prompted by the Paper Witch, a character who helps Fi and Shane after their experience at the witch’s stronghold goes wrong) demands that she accompany Fi and remain her loyal partner in this new mission set upon the two of them. The rest of the novel is a twisting and turning adventure to reach Briar Rose and wake the sleeping prince.

This book is definitely a YA novel, but is definitely appropriate for a 7/8 grade YA reader.

3 Defects

  1. Like many fantasy novels, this book has a lengthy exposition. This may be a turn off for readers not accustomed to a longer build up to the main action of the story.
  2. IT’S A SERIES (okay, so this is a delight, too, but I wasn’t expecting to start a brand new series and now need to wait a significant period of time for a 2nd novel). I wasn’t expecting a cliff hanger until I realized how few pages were left in the novel for a potential wrap up.
  3. The book bounces between characters and time periods. While this isn’t a problem for more advanced readers, this may make the novel more difficult to follow and understand. I found the chapters labeled appropriately and was able to tell the difference between past/present flashbacks, but a more novice reader may not.

3 Delights

  1. It’s a series! I’m excited to read the next parts of this story (and I hope they’re published sooner rather than later).
  2. It has queer characters! While one of the main love interest stories is F/M, the other story (Shane’s story) is a F/F pairing and it’s not considered “weird”, or “different”, or a “problem” or questioned in any way in this world and it causes no “weirdness” between Shane and Fi being partners. It just *is*. It’s normal. It’s mundane. And that’s wonderful.
  3. Details, details, details! Like so many of the fantasy novels I love, this novel brings on the details in the setting descriptions, the character descriptions, the characters’ thoughts and feelings, etc. I’m a fan of deep detail in fantasy novels and this one did it! (It also helps that once the story breaks free of the exposition, this book MOVES and is action packed).