Monday, August 18, 2014

Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

 Gabriel Finley's father, Adam, has disappeared.  Not long after this happens, Gabriel rescues a baby raven named Paladin and learns his family's secret - the Finely's are capable of bonding with a raven.  They can communicate without talking and even merge into one another so then can fly or walk together.  Gabriel learns that his father is being held captive by Corax, a half man half raven who use to be Adam's brother, in the underground city of Avioplois.  Corax is convinced that Adam knows where the torc is, a necklace that grants wishes.  Gabriel and his three friends set out to rescue Gabriel's father.

I really enjoyed reading this.  Great characters, exciting adventures, and it leaves you wondering what will happen next.  I felt like I hadn't really read anything like it, which is saying something since most fantasy books follow a well-worn trope.  There was some really good world building going in the book.  We're given an ancient history lesson so we understand where Avioplois came from and the origins of the torc.  We learn that ravens and humans used to be best friends, until a terrible thing happened that made humans fear all ravens and lead to the creation of the evil valravens, who now serve Corax.

Riddles play an important part in the story.  Gabriel loves riddles, and so do ravens.  We learn that ravens always greet each other with a riddle because only true ravens laugh at riddles.  Valravens, the evil, undead ravens, never laugh.  There's lots of riddles in the books, and I would find myself trying to solve them before I read ahead.  I felt very clever, indeed, when I could.

Some spoilers
Gabriel gets picked on at school a bit.  He's a bit odd, what with liking riddles above all.  His best friend has moved away, but a new girl, Abby, moves in, and she has a fondness for riddles as well.  Like Gabriel, Abby has doesn't quite fit in.  She wears crazy clothes and says exactly what she's thinking.  Pamela, the daughter of Gabriel's aunt's childhood friend Trudy (who was in love with Corax), having grown up with her strict mother, has never eaten anything with sugar and practices the violin for hours a day.  The final kid in what becomes a team is Somes.  Somes starts off as Gabriel's bully, always picking on him and trying to force him to do his homework for him.  As the book goes on, we learn more about Somes.  He lives alone with his father, who isn't much of a father.  Somes has been convinced he's dumb and that nothing will ever change that.  The four are all odd and loners in their own way, and although it seems a strange mix at first, Gabriel and his bully, the daughter of the women in love with Corax, they learn to trust and help each other as their quest goes on.

There's a great section in the book where Gabriel and his friends must cross the bridge of doubt to get into Aviopolis.  As each of them crosses the bridge, they are overcome with all their fears.  Abby wonder why she dresses in such a silly way and why she can't be pretty and perfect like her sister.  Somes thinks about how he's dumb and nothing will ever change that.  Pamela worries that disobeying her mother will cause her to forget everything she's learned.  As each kid crosses the bridge, they have to overcome their doubts on their own in order to make it to the other side.

I really enjoyed how each bird had a distinct personality.  Ravens are smart and clever.  Their natural enemies are owls, who they fear and also think are stupid.  Owls have no interest in riddles, but love a good pun.  Dodos are, as you'd think, not very bright.  Robins are petty and power seeking.

This is a start of a great series, one which I will definitely follow.  The book ends with Gabriel managing to bring his father home, but they lose the torc.  It's still out there, and its dangerous.  What will happen next?!

Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle comes out August 26, 2014.

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