I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective.
I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:
***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book
What is there to like?
▪ By far the best thing about this book is the protagonist, Sage—a smartmouthed, one-step-ahead-of-everyone, street urchin type. (And who can resist them? Not this reviewer.)▪ Quick-moving plot
▪ The dynamic of the relationship between the three boys—competitors but also, thanks their similar backgrounds and constant closeness, something bordering on friends—is interesting to see play out, and contributes a lot to the tension of the novel, especially in watching Sage outmaneuvering the other two.
▪ Though there are only a couple of ladies in this book, Imogen and Amarinda, they are characters rather than romantic objects.
▪ Nielsen does a nice job of narrative balancing: allowing us into the protagonist's head enough that we know there's more to the story than Sage is letting on (either to us or the other characters in the story), and keeping just enough hidden that we're not quite sure what it is (though some may guess).
What's not to like?
▪ The villain is one-dimensional and the extent of his villainy is easier to spot than I think it is supposed to be.
▪ The master/doting-servant relationships are a little uncomfortable-making, between Sage & Errol and Sage & Mott, in particular.
▪ Sage is a delightful character, but I never really felt he would make a particularly good king—which I find to be a problem because, beyond the fact that it’s his birthright, should we really be cheering for him to take the throne? Admittedly, the self-doubt that Sage/Jaron himself feels on that point is certainly a key point of the book. But in the end I wasn’t won over by the strength of his character as a potential leader, as I’ve been by other heroes…which makes the ending feel a bit less of a triumph.
The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White
What made me pick it up?
It was on my to-read shelf probably because of a positive review I read, but more proximally, I kept seeing it on the shelf when I went to look for A Confusion of Princes
by Garth Nix (which I still haven’t found at the library), so it’s been more on my radar than it might have been otherwise. Also, I believe one of my Goodreads friends liked it, and also also, I’ve seen that the next one (The Runaway King) is coming out soon, so I needed to read this one before the second one comes out.
Overall Recommendation: Recommended/Highly Recommended (3.5 stars)
Disclaimer: This reminded me quite a lot of The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, one of my very favorite books, and I’m not sure how that affects my opinion of this book. It seems like of course it would be good that it’s similar to a book I think so highly of…but on the other hand, I admit to thinking, “Well, but it’s not The Thief…” as I was reading it. So I’m not quite sure how to “rate” this book. But I would recommend it for you to read it and decide for yourself.