Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW - Deadweather & Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg)

Source: ALA Midwinter
# of pages: 295 (ARC)
Recommended for: 11 & up

Deadweather and Sunrise, the first installment in the new "Chronicles of Egg" series, is exactly the kind of book I had been desperate to read: exciting and action-packed, witty, heartfelt, and rather sophisticated. After being disappointed and underwhelmed by novels in the older, "teen fiction," I decided to go back to the younger end of the YA spectrum (a la Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson and the like). The book reminded me of what I consider to be the "Golden Age" of Young Adult fiction, from 2001-2008, a time in which similarly well-written, exciting and authentic novels were being published. I think that author Geoff Rodkey really has a winner with this one, and I definitely think he's in the same company as Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott, Jonathan Stroud and Rick Riordan as far as style. D&S is also a prime example of why I wish there was a better term for novels that are marketed to the younger-than-teenagers crowd - "middle grade" doesn't seem to cut it. It's been my experience that a lot of readers pass over such books because of a misconception that they're somehow "juvenile," and in fact, lately I've gotten the impression that when it comes to publishers and [adult] readers, the "middle grade" label has a sort of stepchild status. I have to say, D&S is one of the most original, authentic and well-written BOOKS that I've read in months. Even though I get why Putnam labeled it grades 3-5 for marketing reasons, I would definitely categorize this novel as perfect for the middle school/preteen crowd and beyond. In my opinion, this novel is too mature to warrant an elementary grade leveling.
The novel centers around the young Egbert (called "Egg"), who lives a thankless life on his quasi-negligent father's ugly fruit plantation on the pitiful island of Deadweather (which reminded me of Houston in the summer). By chance, Egg winds up on the beautiful but treacherous island of Sunrise, where he draws the attention of a ruthless tycoon, meets and becomes infatuated with said tycoon's daughter (a delightful character with a not-so-delightful name of "Millicent"), is wrongly accused of murder (it's a bit complicated) and soon finds himself caught up in the dangerous world of rival pirate gangs. I appreciated that the pirates in question weren't portrayed as harmless, goofy caricatures (like that silly stop-motion flick The Pirates or that even sillier live-action flick, Hook) but as actually mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Even the pirates of Pirates of the Caribbean were more mild than the ones presented here. And I liked that. Like I said, D&S had a sort of sophistication to it that I don't see in a lot of novels nowadays. This wasn't just an "oh-how-cute" book. I found myself absolutely absorbed in the story and felt a connection to the main characters. Also, there were several times throughout the novel when Rodkey completely had me guessing what would happen next. After the slew of predictable and formulaic teen-fiction novels I'd read recently, that was a welcome change.
What I want prospective readers to know about Deadweather and Sunrise is how fun and authentic it is. Please don't let the illustrated cover design fool you - this book has way more going for it than you may assume. I don't think it's premature in the least to say that the "Chronicles of Egg" looks to be one of the most promising new series I've seen in the last 2-3 years. Like I said, D&S has a very authentic feel to it, but it also has a sophistication and a sort of maturity to it that I can't quite describe. There were several times when I was absolutely nervous for the characters and the situation they were in. And I think that's the mark of a truly gifted author: someone who's able to get the reader to really feel for the characters and what's going on in the story. They also skillfully employ allusions and innuendos in order to create an emotional reaction, rather than pander to the audience by resorting to edgy or TMI scenarios. Hats off to Geoff Rodkey!
I have no idea how I'm going to quell the need for the next installment! What I do know is that I've found a real winner with Deadweather and Sunrise, and I will definitely be recommending this novel to my students.


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