Laurie Woodward is a fellow Next Chapter author (previously, they were called Creativia Publishing) who writes middle grade books the same as I do, and when I read the synopsis for the first book in her Artania series, I was so intrigued I had to grab a copy for myself.
The basic premise for the Artania series is that art is alive and the creations there have their own realm – Artania itself – that is under threat from monsters that want to wipe out all the hope and creativity from the world so they can take over Artania for themselves.
The denizens of Artania, fearful of losing their home, reach out to two young boys who have been prophesied to save them, both of whom have a passion for art but come from drastically different backgrounds: Bartholomew Borax III, whose mother is the head of a bleach company and has such an obsession with cleanliness that he has to hide his art from her lest she declare it unclean and confiscate it, and Alexander DeVinci, a cool kid who moves to a new home with a larger room for him to paint in where he spends most of his spare time, much to his mother’s sadness when he becomes so absorbed in his work that he rarely speaks to her.
As the plot gently unfolds by the switching of viewpoints between the two boys with each chapter, I found I sympathized most with Bartholomew, as his mother is so strict about him staying clean and presentable, and not picking up germs from anywhere, that he really has no interaction with other kids his age at all. When she reluctantly agrees to let him go to a public school, he is very much an outsider and knows none of the social nuances most of the kids in his class use, and it’s only when he draws a detailed portrait that he gains any sort of respect from them.
Alex is very much the opposite of Bartholomew – confident, lots of friends, easygoing parents etc, but his problems begin when his mother becomes seriously ill, and he blames himself for prioritising art over spending time with her. This neglect for art and the negative emotions around it are what the monsters feed on, making them stronger. Yet when the boys are summoned by the Artanians and learn to be friends, Bartholomew manages to help Alex rekindle his love of art.
As this is book one of a series, it only covers a small part of what the boys have to do to save Artania, focusing on a group of pharaohs who have been kidnapped by the monsters. Because of this, a lot of time and detail is spent building up their world, and it’s clear that a lot of research has gone into this book. Many of the characters are true to Egyptian mythology and history, and I actually learnt a bit while reading.
The characters’ motivations were all crystal clear, and I did find myself rooting for the boys when it got to the nitty gritty of the story. I did, however, find the pacing a bit too slow for my liking, but that’s just personal taste – I like fast paced middle grade that doesn’t let me rest, and this just didn’t have that factor. But the idea behind it was still fresh and well thought out.
I don’t know whether I will continue with the series, as despite the strong writing and plot, I can’t say it gripped me as much as I’d hoped it would. But I imagine it will be a firm favourite with many middle grade readers.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty good read.
Young Bartholomew isn’t allowed to go to school, play outside or make art, so he sketches in secret. When Bartholomew meets the skateboarding artist, Alexander DeVinci, he’s yanked into a mythical realm of living paintings and breathing sculptures: Artania.
The two soon learn that the strange world, where everything seems to be possible, is on the verge of destruction. With Egyptian gods and goddesses by their side, they face daring battles and narrow skateboarding escapes.
But can they defeat the evil Sickhert’s army, and bring art back to the world?