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Book Review: The Thief Queen’s Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Thief Queen’s Daughter

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Lost Journals of Ven Polyphene

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: On his first day on the job as Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, King Vandemere sends young Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–on a secret mission within the walls of the Gated City. His quest? To discover the origin of a mysterious artifact given to the king’s father. The king warns Ven to take care–because once you enter the Gated City, you might never be allowed to leave. Within its walls, all sorts of exotic merchandise not found anywhere else in the world can be bought or sold. But not only merchandise. Dreams, wishes, memories…even childhood…can be sold–or stolen. The Gated City is ruled by the powerful Raven’s Guild, and the guild is ruled by the Queen of Thieves. Ven and his friends enter the Gated City ready for adventure. But when one friend is kidnapped and it is revealed that they are traveling in the company of the runaway daughter of the Queen of Thieves herself, their adventure turns deadly. For the ruthless Thief Queen will stop at nothing to get her daughter back! -Goodreads

The Review:

I love when robust fantasy authors tackle Middle Grade and YA.

Responsible for one of the most poignant fantasy series I’ve ever read – Symphony of Ages, Haydon continues to dazzle me with with her rich world-building, magical adventure, and interesting characters in this MG series set in the same world.

The first book, The Floating Island, was an experience. Easily one of the strongest books I’ve read in the MG market. And what made it fun was the traveling/adventure, fun companions, all the riddles and puzzles, and the unique composition of the book itself. Told as a reconstruction of recovered journals, it is a mix of journal entries, illustrations, and fill-in text to complete the story between the first-hand accounts. I loved every moment, and was especially eager to dive into this second book.

I didn’t find The Thief Queen’s Daughter quite as strong as the first book. It had a really interesting setting – a thief market, where the bulk of the story took place. While this cool new place was explored to my satisfaction, I missed the expansive settings from the first book a bit. The novelty of the place was awesome – so many cool magical shops and items. I think my younger self would be marveled at all the discoveries.

I’m kind of weird (as we’ve no doubt established) in that if I know anything about a story from diving in, I’m less likely to feel invested. The process of discovery is my main draw to reading, so if I come across any spoilers, it can completely wreck the experience for me. This is the reason why I don’t read book overviews. And why I’m no fun to buddy read things with. But no matter how careful I am, I can’t avoid seeing the freaking title of the book. So it’s exciting main reveal? Oooooohhhh, yeah I knew that already. This is a case where someone should’ve thought it through more. Rant over.

Recommendations: this is such a magical MG series that would be my pick to hand-sell to families looking for great, accessible stories to read together. It has something for everyone, and as an adult I’m enjoying every moment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Floating Island

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told… Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime. Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder. In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. –Goodreads

The Review:

Middle grade books have a special place in my heart, but I’ll admit that it’s difficult to find titles that give me the same overall satisfaction as adult novels (for obvious reasons). So when one comes along with substance and depth, I geek out. Aside from Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and a handful of others, my list of MG favorites is a short one… and now Floating Island is among them!

Not that I’m terribly surprised. As a longtime fan of Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series, I’d hoped the quality of writing and storytelling would be on par with her adult fantasy, and it was. What’s more, this series takes place in the same world as SoA, which solidified my interest in it even more because I have the mechanisms and histories of the world as a solid baseline. That said, it does stand really well on its own for those new to Haydon’s works.

What I liked most was the sense of adventure and discovery the pages offered. And the concept: a young boy traveling to new places and documenting his findings along the way. Granted there wasn’t a ton of discovery in this first book, but it set the stage nicely for what I hope will be a wild ride in future books.

The writing was anything but simplistic. Told in an almost lyrical fashion, the tale is spun with a distinctive elegant voice that somehow elevates the fantastical nature of the story. It’s a lot more sophisticated than I’ve seen from the genre, but not in a way that makes it any less accessible to kids. It’s a true testament to quality that it can appeal to a wide range of ages. I loved the delivery – which included a bunch of passages from Ven’s Journal, the art, and also loved that the plot had enough twists to keep me guessing.

I’ve only one gripe, and it’s a marketing critique: there aren’t any dragons in this first book. I mean, I’ve read the adult series, so I still felt their presence to a small degree, but for anyone who’s only read this series I imagine the cover art doesn’t seem relevant at all. But dragons sell books. Just look at me. I’m pretty sure I bought these before knowing what they were, solely on the cover art. But misrepresentation for sake of sales is a new personal gripe of mine.

Recommendations: Floating Island was a great little adventure and one of the best I’ve read from the genre in a long while. It has great writing, interesting world building, and fun characters, all adding up to a story that will appeal to both kids and adults alike. It’s set in the same world as Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series but can be read independently. I enjoyed it so much, it is now among my personal favorites for the middle grade genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes