Ah, formula fantasy, my old friend.
Tamora Pierce is a name I've come across a lot, but I had never actually read one of her books. So, yesterday when I was at the library and needed an easy excuse to talk to one of the staff, kind of an opening so I could mention casually that I had lost a book ("Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link, and I didn't get to finish it, and I am disdraught), I picked a Book 1 up. Clearly it wasn't that bad, as I finished it in less than a day.
It's one of a series of four books, and in formula fantasy way, it has four main characters. Back in my mis-spent teens and 20s, I apparently had a lot more reading time than I do now, and I read a lot of, you know, DragonLance and Forgotten Realms, and that "Master of the Five Magics" and "The Black Company", Shanarra, David Eddings, and things like that. There's nothing wrong with those books, but a steady diet of that type of fantasy, well, it's kind of like eating at the same restaurant all the time. I don't regret reading all that stuff, but I kind of wish I had read a few things that were a little more meaningful. (Well, actually, that Black Company stuff was really good.)
This one is for Young Adults (I found it in the teen section of the library) though the characters are all, I think, 11. This spares them from puberty, I suppose. So this group of four young misfits who can't get along with anybody find themselves in their last-chance house together and amazingly, they manage to get along with one another quite well.
Being book 1 of a series, there's a lot of what I refer to as "quest theme". The characters are each introduced, then about a quarter of the way through they meet up. The next hundred pages or so involve them slowly finding out they have Talents (with a capital T, yet). Then right at the end a crisis appears and they use their talents to mitigate the disaster. There were some horrible moments. Any time there was a paragraph that outlined the four characters, in one sentence each, applying their particular perspective (if it's Briar, then it's to do with plants; Tris is all about weather; Sandry is a fiber artist; and Daja is into metalsmithing), I cringed. It just seemed so un-subtle.
At the same time, the book seemed really well-researched. I know nothing about growing bansai or making wire, but the descriptions seemed believable to me. Maybe someone from the SCA would be appalled, I don't know. But it flew in the face of my tendency to avoid anything technical on topics I know nothing about. I probably need to do some small bit of research about, say, canoe tripping, or making reality television, for my stories. But anyway.
And there were some wonderful moments of interaction between the characters. Briar was sitting on the roof, and Tris came up, and he couldn't figure out why she wasn't doing all those annoying things that girls always do that are the reason that he didn't want her around. It was a really nicely written scene.
But then, one of the good things about a lot of those fantasy novels that I read in my "wasted years" were the interactions between the characters. They're there to provide me with a good read, not to explain why all Americans are to blame for 9/11, and I should feel guilty about that.
A pleasant, harmless read. I might pick up book 2 next week when I'm at the library again. And when the boy looked at the book, he asked if he could read it next. When your child says something like that, it's hard to think there's something wrong.