This series' second installment is a spiritless conglomeration of fantasy tropes.
Human magic is kaput, so the three loyals (human children) stay home while "the Prophesized Three" familiars‚ÄĒAldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert‚ÄĒtake center stage, journeying to fulfill their destiny. Skylar's an illusion-casting blue jay, Gilbert a tree frog who occasionally sees visions in puddles, Aldwyn a telekinetic cat descended from a tribe "whose mental powers extended beyond that of mere telekinesis, to firestarting, mind control, and astral projection." Except for the fact that Skylar flies and Aldwyn walks on all fours, they barely show animal traits; it's easy to forget that these protagonists are animals at all. What's harder is to think of any fantasy motifs that don't appear. Danger is frequent but never actually dangerous (lose a finger? No worries, it'll regenerate a couple pages later). Protective magic is overly convenient, solutions are too easy and a supposed surprise turncoat is telegraphed all along by his name, which starts with the syllable "Mal." Even cartoon physics works here, sadly without irony or winks: An illusory bridge over a chasm "can even fool gravity and the laws of nature" as long as the familiars "don't question its existence." Frequent double-description makes the pace drag ("He felt drops of water running down his face. He was crying").This dull string of clich√É¬É√ā¬©s offers nothing to invest in. (Fantasy. 7-11) Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
The calculated invocation of too many tropes makes for a joyless fantasy debut. Aldwyn may be an orphaned alley cat with a mysterious past, but he has street smarts in abundance, so when young wizard-in-training Jack adopts him as his "familiar," Aldwyn knows he's on to a good thing. To secure his position among the other familiars--Skylar, the know-it-all bluejay, and Gilbert, the goofily genial tree frog--he pretends to possess magic as well. But when the three apprentice wizards are kidnapped by an evil sorceress, Aldwyn's lie puts their already-impossible rescue mission in danger. There isn't a fantasy clich√É¬© left out of this tale nor anything particularly clever or original in their use. The familiars might as well have been named Harry, Hermione and Ron, with only the barest nod to nonhuman traits; the magical system is painfully muddled; the plot is driven by random encounters and ridiculous coincidences; the climactic Big Reveal is telegraphed far in advance; the denouement serves only as a blatant advertisement for a sequel. Pass. (Fantasy. 8-12)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
After starving alley cat Aldwyn steals food from a fishmonger once too often, he is chased by a notorious bounty hunter intent on exterminating him. He takes refuge in a pet store that sells animal familiars to local wizards and is purchased by Jack, a young apprentice. Aldwyn likes his cushy new life in Stone Runlet with Jack and two other students, but he struggles to convince his fellow familiars--a blue jay named Skylar and a tree frog named Gilbert--that he's as magical as they are. When a prophecy foretells that three spell-casters from Stone Runlet will save the world, the formerly benevolent Queen Loranella kills the students' mentor and takes the young novices prisoner, leaving it to the familiars to rescue the children. Screenwriters Epstein and Jacobson's children's book debut is a grand adventure with entertaining characters and magic-induced fun, written in an appropriately cinematic style (Sony Pictures Animation has optioned the story). Even adults will appreciate a tale in which street smarts mix with book learning, and resourcefulness and confidence are matched by loyalty and respect. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-6--In this sequel to The Familiars (HarperCollins, 2010), the traitorous rabbit familiar Paksahara has gained control of the Shifting Fortress, enabling her to cast powerful spells; in her bid to overthrow humans, she has eliminated their ability to do magic. Animals retain their magical ability, so familiars Skylar the blue jay, Gilbert the tree frog, and Aldwyn the cat set off on a journey through strange and exotic lands to find the Crown of the Snow Leopard, which will allow them to locate the Shifting Fortress. The cliff-hanger ending ensures at least one more installment. The writing isn't the strength of this book--characters are painted broadly and tend to make pronouncements in pompous fantasy-speak. However, the familiars' adventures are exciting, and the revelations about Aldwyn's long-lost parents are touching. Fans of the first book will be pleased, and the story will also appeal to readers of animal fantasy series like Erin Hunter's "Warriors" (HarperCollins) and Kathryn Lasky's "The Guardians of Ga'hoole" (Scholastic)--Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library[Page 102]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gr 4-7--This series opener won't disappoint. Escaping from a bounty hunter, a streetwise cat becomes the familiar of a boy magician-in-training. Almost before Aldwyn gets to know his new surroundings, Jack, his sister, and a fellow student are kidnapped and it is up to him; Skylar, a magic-adept bluejay; and Gilbert, a clumsy, red-eyed tree frog, to rescue their "loyals." The consistently suspenseful narrative moves quickly and is full of twists and turns. The characters are genuinely familiar: Aldwyn feels inadequate and works hard to conceal his humble origins; Skylar has secretly studied human magic and can be arrogant about her abilities; bumbling Gilbert thinks mostly about food and fears the father he has disappointed. The history of the queendom of Vastia is smoothly worked into the narrative. This winning combination of action and humor will keep readers turning pages right up to the ending, which successfully concludes this adventure but leaves room for more.--Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD[Page 98]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.