Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!).
Who I Recommend This To: Entertaining for both kids and adults, like the Harry Potter books in some regards.
Narrator: Andy Bowyer
Publisher: Open Book Audio (2012)
Length: 18 hours 23 minutes
Series: Book 1 The Saga of Billy Jones
So you can obviously see why the cover drew me in: blue is my favorite color and there is some sort of water serpent or dragon. Pretty darn cool. Turns out the story was pretty darn cool too. Billy Jones is 13 going on 14 years old, and he is not the most popular kid. Short for his age (but really no shorter than I as an adult), he fits snugly inside his school locker, an experience made possible by the school’s ‘Torture Brigade’, which is made up of mostly stupid, mean-spirited bullies. Billy’s parents barely got their GEDs, and hence they both have minimum-paying jobs, so Billy gets free school lunches, which are questionable ‘food’ at best. While his dad is often far too busy with work (firefighter), his mom is around to make sure he has 3 meals a day and gets tucked in safely at night, when she is not working as a check-out clerk.
But all that starts to go sideways when his ancient history teacher, Mrs. Russett, shows him a world of magic, intrigue, and certain death. This is the point where Michaelbrent Collings takes this kids’ book from the average ‘poor me’ bullied story to something unique, entertaining, and unputdownable. Yes, I did not want to put this book away for some much needed sleep. Hence, this review might be missing the kindness of a good spellcheck. The character growth and building was more than I expected for a childrens’ book, and one of the reasons I think many adults would enjoy this novel. The worldbuilding was shown to the reader in pieces, words, and actions, allowing you to step into it as Billy Jones did, bumbling around with him, putting the clues together, occasionally feeling a little lost, but also gaping at the wonder of rock giants, unicorns, the inside of a whale, and moving through the earth on a magical rock chair.
Billy is something of an enigma to the Powers (think witches/wizards) of this alternate world – he is neither aligned with the Dawnwalkers nor the Darksiders. An uneasy truce has existed between the two factions for a generation, since the last major confrontation when the Darksider leader, Wolfen, was banished from Powers Island. But now a prophecy may be coming true, and Billy may be at the heart of it as the Messenger of the White King. Of course, Billy has to use his wits to save his skin more than once as he has not manifested any powers of his own. His willingness to befriend talking inanimate objects, to walk into certain insanity to save friends, and his honest respect for the powers surrounding him buy him time and much needed, even if temporary or enigmatic, alliances.
While the book starts off a little slow, the pace quickly picks up once a frog gets involved. And yes, there are several times where some magical person or being swoops down from on high and saves Billy or one of his friends. Despite these small criticisms, they did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. *Just a little more gushing* – There were talking hot dogs! Strange, very strange. But the things they said resulted in snort laughter, which had my man quirking an eyebrow in my direction wondering what was so funny.
Andy Bowyer was the perfect choice for this audiobook. Poor Billy is at the awkward stage in a young man’s life when his voice is changing, and our narrator had to do most of the book in a cracking teen’s voice. He also had a variety of female voices – and Mrs. Russett’s stern voice was perfect. I could just see her there with a ruler in hand wanting to swat me over late homework. Bowyer’s creeping, cunning voice for Wolfen was excellent, as was his warrior princess voice for the Red Power. There was even the need for an underwater, singsong mermaid voice, which Bowyer created a distinct cadence for.
What I Liked: Billy most of all; Mrs. Russett was my second favorite character; the worldbuilding with all the little magical bits was excellent; there was a twist at the end that I was not expecting, tying this story to an ancient legend; Billy’s commentary on the Powers fashion sense; I really wanted to hate the bullies and Mrs. Black.
What I Disliked: The plot was a little predictable; Billy is magically, conveniently, saved more than once.
This is part of the Read & Review Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to stop by this week to check out more book reviews.