(This review contains minor spoilers for The Blood Guard series, because I can’t figure out how to tell you what I liked/didn’t like without mentioning them. They are things that come to light fairly early in the first book, mostly, so I’m don’t feel like I’m ruining anything by mentioning them, but if you like to go into a book with a blank slate, then you should probably not read this. I will spoil my own review and tell you now: I liked them.)
The thing about writing a review for kids books is that you have to remember that you are not exactly the target audience. Which is fine: I wouldn’t go back to middle school for anything, thank you very much, because then I’d have to do high school again, and I barely made it through the first time. But you do have to put yourself in the position of thinking like a middle school-er again, for a little while, and that’s half the appeal of reading this stuff, for me.
Because when I was twelve, I had no trouble believing that trolls or fairies or witches or demons or creepy-ass sewer spiders that were probably/definitely aliens might actually exist somewhere out there in the big world: Just cause I’d never come across them, and just because ‘logic’ might deny their existence, well: ‘logic’ and I could just agree to disagree. I will probably always be this kind of reader – just a little bit, anyways: Only now, instead of dreaming that someday I might stumble upon a fairy’s hill, I have the sort of fantasies that revolve around families who don’t want to punch each other every time they try to make lunch plans: I believe that they just might exist out there somewhere, even if my actual life has given me no evidence to support this theory. I can have faith about some things, still.
Which is why, when I get questions from my parent friends about the reluctant readers in their lives – generally their middle grade age kids (between 3rd and 8th grade); 9 times out of 10, it is a boy (which frustrates me beyond measure but is a rant for another day); who used to love to read with them when they were little but is all ‘nah’ about it now, one of the questions I always ask is “Well: What kind of craziness are you bringing them?”
Because if you’ve got a kid who doesn’t like reading, then hitting them with the absurd, the fantastical, the pure ridiculous is almost always your best bet. There are outliers, of course: I have a nephew who rebuffed all adventure/fantasy books completely and would only read about sports (which sounds like the most boring thing in the world to me, but whatever floats your boat) & another young lady who insisted that she would only read true things, so I got her hooked on some great biographies. But these are exceptions that prove the rule, really: even the sports and biographies that roped them in were in the extreme categories themselves – learning about tightrope walkers in the travelling circuses of the 1930s and 40s, for example, or reading about Jackie Robinson after we watched 42: Nothing ordinary here – The most fantastical truths that we could find.
And if you’re looking for some good adventure and nonsense and world-building and treachery and confusion on an almost cosmic level, then you could do no better than the Blood Guard series by Carter Roy. I’ve just finished reading the first two books (thank you NetGalley!), and I think they’re just the right flavor of absurd that any kid in the right age range would really love them. (The right age range here being 8-14, ish: The writing’s a little advanced for the younger set -but good for reading aloud together – and maybe a little too much nonsense for older kids- because teenagers try to take themselves too seriously to really get into the escapism of it all- but I’d say that’s the right range, anyways.)
We start off by meeting Evelyn Ronan Truelove, who hates his first name and has no idea how he suddenly wound up fleeing from his mom’s enemies, looking for her secret ally, who he can only find by giving him a code word, on a train headed some place he’s never been before. He didn’t even know his mom HAD enemies, let alone that she could do all of these really impressive ninja moves and had car chase skills that carpool had certainly never allowed her to show off before. But now he’s on the run, his dad has been kidnapped, his mom is supposed to be leading the bad guys away from him -except for how they keep managing to show up anyways – and this ‘ally’ she told him to meet on the train is some kind of fruit-loopy pickpocket named Dawkins.
And that’s how Ronan learns the truth: that his mother (and Dawkins) are part of a society called The Blood Guard, and that they are sworn to protect (through various means, hence her being all Black Widow all of the sudden) the Pure – the 36 people on earth whose souls are so good and so important that the loss of any of them could possibly throw the whole planet into an apocalypse territory. The Pure balance out all the evil in the world, just by existing, and know nothing about this, of course; which makes protecting them rather tricky, especially when one of them turns out to be Ronan’s former classmate and still sort-of friend, Greta.
The first book is mostly Greta, Dawkins and Ronan on the run from the bad guys – a group called the Bend Sinister, whose objective is to harvest the souls of the Pure for their own nefarious (and so far unexplained) plans. It’s pretty funny, though; which is a must for me. Turns out all the random classes Ronan’s mom has been enrolling him in his whole life – all different forms of martial arts & horseback riding and swing dance and surviving in the wilderness – have been in preparation for this kind of eventuality. Which is pretty good planning, on her part, because all of the sudden they’re being chased by mindless zombie like things, and people who can control other people’s bodies with their minds, and Ronan is SO not into that.
Which stinks for him, because things are not looking any better at the end of book one, or the beginning of The Glass Gauntlet, book two in the series. Which is where Greta, Dakwins, Ronan, a foster kid named Sammy, and the remaining local Blood Guard abscond into the wilderness and pretend they’re at summer camp. If summer camp consisted of things like trying to figure out how to escape from a mountain resort city that everyone assumes is a ghost town or lock picking or computer programming, or sword-fighting (taught by a kick-butt wheelchair user who does NOT get enough page time, unfortunately). Or wandering straight into traps set by 200-yr-old magic users, a blind man who can steal your sense of sight and use it against you, or your newly-discovered arch enemy.
But hey- I never went to summer camp: maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be like?
The books are funny and fast reads, full of adventure & strong characters (both male and female: Greta is both the pickpocket queen and the queen of not taking anybody’s word for anything) and not as confusing as trying to sum them up here makes them sound. If my niece and I ever finish Lemony Snicket (We’re on bk 6: Ersatz Elevator!), I’ll see if she wants to give these a go: not quite as funny, a little less grim (so far) in tone, but still pretty good reads.