Three hares and their allies must stop venomous creatures bent on conquest in this debut middle-grade fantasy adventure.
A brutal attack on benevolent eagles King Aridin and Queen Sparra—and the kidnapping of their unhatched prince for nefarious purposes—catapults the peaceful Desert Realm into war with venomous frogs, scorpions, snakes, wasps, and bats controlled by vile lizard Hillmaken. As more and more desert inhabitants—including wild pigs and coyotes—mutate into poisonous evildoers under the influence of the mysterious Venom Stone that fell “from the heavens,” Hillmaken’s army swells. The Realm’s only hope to defeat it is a trio of seemingly ordinary hares. According to ancient tortoise Honu, brothers Nick, Cade, and Sam must risk their lives to fulfill a prophecy and prevent the “Venomous Ones” from bringing all creatures under their “cold and cruel” rule. In their quest to fulfill their destiny, the young hares encounter life-threatening dangers and unexpected (and imaginatively conceived) magical aid. Their close friend Olivia the owl has her own brave role to play in the fight, involving in part Baumann’s enjoyable strategy featuring spiderwebs. Readers afraid of creepy-crawlies should be aware that there are heaps of them here, and the author doesn’t stint on gruesomeness. In Hillmaken’s subterranean lair, reeking of death and “littered with the skeletons of various creatures he had devoured,” the pulsing Venom Stone’s function is grisly indeed. Shaped by well-timed scene shifts and smartly balanced action and suspense—and complemented by Negali’s rich, painterly illustrations—Baumann’s narrative of imperiled royals, malevolent villains, ferocious battles, a magical prophecy, and Everyman heroes gives readers of all ages ample reasons to stay hooked, despite a few rough spots. (For example, at the top of a giant mesa are “torches hung near the opening” and a “hollow” that seems in the next sentence to become a “cavern.”) Although Baumann’s fantasy animal world lacks the depth of Brian Jacques’ Redwall universe and can use a bit of polish, it is still substantive.
An action-packed animal tale with three-dimensional characters, dynamic plotting, and a satisfying, suspenseful struggle between good and evil.