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CIRCLE OF HEROES by Adam Jay Epstein


From the Familiars series, volume 3

by Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson & illustrated by Greg Call

Age Range: 7 - 11

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-196114-4
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Despite obvious new injections of suspense and complexity, this quest-ender is mediocre.

The "Prophesized Three"—telekinetic cat Aldwyn, illusion-summoning blue jay Skylar and frog Gilbert, who sees the future in puddles—leave their human "loyals" behind for safety (human magic’s been stolen) and journey to collect “[d]escendants of the seven species that formed the First Phylum.” In their way stands an army of ravaging zombie animals, raised from the Tomorrowlife by evil hare Paksahara. Paksahara claims she wants animals to rule themselves rather than being enslaved by humans, but it’s clear that in this world a human-animal alliance is the morally superior goal. Obstacles are variable and sometimes adorable (“very, very small hippopotamuses….no taller than cucumbers wearing body armor and carrying blowguns”), but they’re incredibly easy to defeat. (Knife thrown? Aldwyn’s telekinesis will turn it aside. Exhausted? A neveryawn nut offers “a full night’s sleep in mere seconds.”) Beginning a sentence with the word “Amazingly” can’t force excitement, nor can superlatives (“the fake glyphstone must have been their cleverest trick yet”). Welcome notes of unpredictability—an alternate-history concept and the question “what if… prophecies d[o]n’t always come true?”—buckle before the obvious ending.

The prose doesn’t live up to the nuance it attempts, and narrative thrust is weak; hand this off to readers who crave episodic danger that doesn’t feel too dangerous. (Fantasy. 7-11)