Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Shadowhand Covenant (The Vengekeep Prophecies #2) by Brian Farrey

My older brother latched onto certain phrases growing up. "Cool," with drawled out "O's" lasted the longest, but a close second was, "numbnuts" - a phrase hurled at any warm being that he considered a dork. I've been overseas too long and dunno if kids still use that phrase, but it came to mind while reading the riot of made-up words that this author creates for his characters to use with each other. Jaxter Grimjinx's friends and family use phrases like "zoc," "tevrok," and "naff-nut," to name a few. The later reminded me of my irritating parrot-like brother prattling "numbnut" at me while growing up. Whatever your word of choice, you'll laugh your "naff-nuts" off in this sequel to the "Vengekeep Prophecies." Er... that sounds naughty. I'll leave the wordplay up to Brian Farrey. It's been a long day and my jet-lagged brain is still "naff-nutty"; side effects of a recent 14-hour-time-change-trip over the holidays. But seriously, I love this guy's writing. He's funny. He has good plot twists. The world building and magic are sound. The characters are engaging. The villains are complex. He's really quite talented and I can't wait for the next book to come out. If you liked this one, make sure you read book 1. It's terrific too.

The Shadowhands are master thieves that are so secretive no one knows who they are in the Five Provinces. The most complicated heists are attributed to them. Jaxter's family finds out that the Shadowhands have been disappearing and set out to solve the mystery. Meanwhile the High Laird has imprisoned the Sarosan people for no apparent reason causing turmoil in the Five Provinces. Jaxter gets mixed up in the politics as an apprentice to the Dowager who is the High Laird's sister. As clues reveal that the two issues are inexplicably linked, Jaxter works to solve the mystery that leads him on a quest involving monsters, magical-traps, friendships, and betrayals.

Jaxter's character arc involves him contemplating whether or not he wants to be an apprentice to the Dowager. He does not love the assignments that he's been doing with her as of late and wants to focus on botany. This message might capture for some readers the frustration of having to take courses or learn subjects they could care less about. For me this message made me think of the jobs I have had that I didn't particularly like or the ones that had no future. At the end when the Dowager talked about Jaxter's initial enthusiasm as an apprentice and how it got lost, I thought about how that can happen in a job or life in general. It is important to not grow stagnant, embrace the uncertainties of the future, and continue to grow and learn as a person. Jaxter realizes this at the end of the story and matures as a result.

Jaxter is a kindred spirit. He's a clod. I have fallen down steps, walked into trees, fallen out of trees, dangled from chain-linked fences and have such a history of clod-dom that my empathy and joy in finding a character with the same traits is easy to understand. Jaxter makes me laugh out loud and not feel so alone in the world. Add him to my small, but beloved "Kingdom of Clods" secret character list. Except Jaxter is wiz-bang smart. I'm not. I'm just good at doing flips. Intentional or not. Jaxter doesn't have to be a super-duper athletic, because he has magical plants that heal him. The plants have the power to overcome magical elements in the Five Provinces and do much more than just heal. Farrey cleverly works them into the plot creating a believable fantasy world. I find myself looking forward to one of Jaxter's new plant concoctions meant to defeat a monster or magician. Good fun.

Language is a joy for Farrey and it shows from his witty, made-up ancient par-Goblin language such as, "Aeris vul heshla noressa laneer" which means "scratch the gold to find the tarnish"; to his creation of the poetic young warrior bard, Holm, who uses poorly-worded couplets in dire circumstances; to Jaxter's parents ironic comments that are the opposite of what you would normally tell your kid such as, "Don't worry, Son. It's just the feeling of innocence. It'll pass." Put in some interesting plot twists and unique magic and you have a story that's a blast. Farrey leaves readers with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Purr. Toss in a teaser at the end and you'll be "naff-nuts" for the next book.

5 Smileys

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