"Author Wilson makes good use of Irish history, myth, and legend here to provide a different take on the typical fantasy-adventure plot about a teenager who discovers that he's more special than he realized.."– Kirkus Reviews
In Wilson’s (The Young King, 2017, etc.) YA novel, a young teenager vacationing in Ireland discovers that he has a special destiny to fight evil.
British 13-year-old Peter Wanderer dreads having to spend two whole weeks of his vacation on an isolated Irish island, keeping his elderly aunt company after her recent widowhood. Although he’s prepared for a dull fortnight, dramatic events soon occur: Peter finds himself playing the fiddle better than ever before; three islanders go missing under mysterious circumstances; and there are local reports of pooka or perhaps dullaghans—evil, animal-shaped demons. Even stranger, two old men introduce themselves to Peter and his new acquaintance, a teenage local girl named Siobhan Kelly, as leprechauns and give the pair startling news: they’re both changelings from the “faery” world, and their special skills are desperately needed. Recent construction drilling has awakened Catharnach, an evil giant with many horrible followers, who’s only a representative of the much more fearsome Miasma of Evil. Both teenagers struggle to accept demanding realities—magical beings, changelings, time travel, reincarnation—and the tasks that await them: Peter must find and play a magic harp, and Siobhan must tap into her past life as a great Irish faery warrior in order to face Catharnach. They’ll have help in this endeavor, including from 16th-century pirate Grace O’Malley, but the bigger battle is only beginning. Author Wilson makes good use of Irish history, myth, and legend here to provide a different take on the typical fantasy-adventure plot about a teenager who discovers that he’s more special than he realized. (Siobhan, too, but this is mainly Peter’s story.) The Irish mythology–flavored heroes and villains are a nice change from the usual elves, orcs, dwarves, and such. The book offers engaging episodes of fighting and adventure interspersed with graceful exposition. Although Peter’s and Siobhan’s near-instant access to enormous talents sans long hours of practice offers pleasurable wish-fulfillment, it’s less satisfying than having them learn skills on their own. However, it helps to balance the scales, giving the two a chance to show their considerable courage. Future adventures follow in two published sequels.
A well-paced series opener with plenty of action.
A young survivor of a pirate attack discovers a mysterious island in this YA fantasy adventure.
New Zealander Sam Warburton, age 12, is enjoying a luxury yacht vacation in Indonesia with his parents, his best friend, and his father’s business partner, Frank Trent, when pirates attack. They kill almost everyone aboard and sink the yacht—but not before rescuing Trent and his black briefcase. What’s that about? Sam doesn’t have time to think; hiding aboard an inflatable life raft, he manages to escape. Over several stressful days, Sam attempts to stay alive, gaining assistance from animal helpers. He finds an island and starts building a hut, but the fierce local fauna set him wandering. So far, Wilson’s (The Young King, 2017, etc.) book has much in common with other vibrant tales of resilient, clever young people surviving on their own, like Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain or Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, and provides similar pleasures. When Sam encounters islanders, though, the novel takes an unfortunate turn to another kind of story: white explorer meets ignorant nonwhite natives and astounds them with his superior knowledge. They are all amazed at Sam’s snorkel, first aid, rugby tackles, freestyle swimming strokes, and outriggers for their canoes, considering the boy a “wonder man,” making some young men jealous and leading to painful images like “grins and shiny white teeth were the order of the day.” Sam, meanwhile, has nothing to learn from people who are experts in their environment. With this awkward bwana fantasy now in full swing, the book turns again. Suddenly, anything goes: green-robed, English-speaking priests from a large, elaborate compound “based on the great gardens of Babylon and Egypt” appear and demand some villagers for sacrifice, including Lastri, a girl Sam likes. But if Sam wins a ritual race and retrieves a treasure, he can save the intended victims. Thanks—and only thanks—to frequent magical assists from the treasure, Sam prevails. Will he now try to return to civilization and search for Trent?
Starts effectively as a gripping survival story, but the explorer fantasy and deus ex machina approach hamper the tale.