Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle
By George Hagen
ARC e-book, 384 pages (hardcover)
2014, Schwartz & Wade
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Blurb from Amazon: How can twelve-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father… or to his death.
What I liked:
I love middle grade books with a magical twist – especially ones where the children are pushed to be creative or think about situations differently than normal. Then you add in the ravens, the riddles and a secret underground city and I figured I’d be hooked.
I will say I enjoyed the lore behind the creation of valravens – once upon a time ravens were able to bond with certain humans, then one day two ravens discovered a magical necklace that compelled the ravens to seek more power. One raven obeyed the torc, tasted the flesh of his master, and became an immortal valraven, soulless and constantly seeking flesh. Pretty cool, huh?!
I enjoy the cover design too.
What I didn’t like:
I know I’m not the intended age range for this book, so of course, if you’re thinking about it for someone in the 9-12 age range (which Amazon suggests) then maybe take my thoughts with a grain of salt. But on the other hand, I’m a big fan of middle grade books and I’m familiar limitations, which I take into consideration when reading. Gabriel Finley just didn’t draw me in – I wasn’t connected to his character and I didn’t feel that he was very remarkable in comparison with other characters in the genre. Yes, he’s a pro at solving riddles, but that’s just about his only outstanding characteristic and his personality was flat.
The rest of the characters were incredibly cliché. Gabriel had a few female sidekicks, one of which was also good at solving riddles and “thinking outside the box” and the other was a violin prodigy. There was also the traditional bully-turned-ally. The adults in the book were just as hollow. Gabriel’s aunt took the hands-off approach to the extreme, she was deliberately vague about his family history and potential powers, offered no assistance on his quest and willingly let him roam into danger and cavort with other “dangerous” adults. There was his aunt’s “evil” friend who made nasty tasting food, generally didn’t like Gabriel and was allowed to punish him for silly reasons and who crushed on the villain of the book for no reason. There was a bully-turned-ally adult character was well – Septimus was a liar and a cheat, but Gabriel continued to trust him because he believed eventually the good would come out in him. Corax, the main villain, was evil because he was evil, which is the worst kind of villain.
My last big issue with this book was the ravens and their evil counterparts, valravens. The big difference between ravens and valravens is that valravens never find riddles funny. Ever. Never. They never find them funny, so that’s how you can tell a valraven from a raven. You see, ravens love riddles and find them humorous, but not valravens. Valravens never laugh at riddles! So if you can talk to ravens, ask them a riddle. A real raven will laugh, and a valraven won’t!
That last paragraph was annoying, right? Well, that’s how reading this book felt. Readers were beat about the head with the concept that valravens don’t find riddles funny. I know this is a book for younger readers, but please, give them credit! Why mention that more than once, maybe twice? They will understand when you write a scene where a valraven doesn’t laugh – but Hagen repeated that line so often that I actually took a break in the middle of the book because I was so tired of that plot point.
This book just didn’t deliver for me. I’ve read a few gems from the middle grade category this year, Nest coming to mind first. Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle didn’t meet my expectations and it’s not something I’d recommend if you’re looking for middle grade fantasy.