Reviews

Book Review, Artania: The Pharaoh’s Cry by Laurie Woodward

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.

 

Official blurb:

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?

Artania

Poetry

Cover to cover

Hiding in the in-between,

tucked into corners and balancing on ends,

hanging from cliff faces

only to fall

into a change of pace,

your viewpoint shifts

as the plot thickens around your inner self.

You’re running wild, free,

almost off the page –

and then you hit the wall,

the final cover falling back into place,

locking you in once more.

 

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Reading a new book

A few months ago I picked up a very sword and sorcery style fantasy, a bit reminiscent of David Eddings’ work (I love his Belgariad series and have re-read it several times) and several other epic fantasies that I’ve read. Up til then, I’d mainly been reading middle grade or YA fantasy, which are also the genres I write in, so I though this book would make a nice change. What I didn’t expect, however, was for the sheer amount of detail in it – the type that makes a simple trip to the well seem to last an age because every flower, tree and creature is mentioned along the way.

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact is generally expected in epic fantasy, I found it quite jarring and it took me away from the characters and the story. I think the reason is because the pacing between a middle grade book and an epic fantasy is very different, and I wasn’t prepared for that. The whole story seemed to take so long to tell, and, quite frankly, I wasn’t used to it. But I liked the main characters and was intrigued about where the plot was going, so I tried to carry on to find out what happened. Yet every time I looked at my bookshelf, I could hear the other books calling out to be read (well, not literally, because I’d be questioning my sanity if that were the case, but I think you understand that they were very appealing).

I started reading less and less, wanting to start something new but not wanting to ‘give up’ on the book I was trying to finish either. I was feeling low because I wasn’t reading as much, and I felt like I wasn’t doing the books justice by just letting them sit there on the shelf, or rattling around, dog-earred, in my bag. Then I got to the point where I wanted to do anything other than read, because I simply couldn’t get on with that book.

So I did finally put it aside.

At first, I felt bad. I hardly ever stop reading a book before the end (in fact, the only other book I’ve taken a break with is ‘The Silmarillion’ by J R R Tolkien – it’s not an easy read, so I need to fully focus on it to absorb the plot, something that’s a bit hard to do on the bus or during a break at work).

Then I read the prologue of the book I’d been waiting to read, which is a middle grade steampunk novel, and it was like someone tearing a hole in a plastic bag that happens to contain your world. I got a full lungful of fresh words describing new people, places and concepts, and for the first time in months, I want to read again.

Perhaps I should have changed books as soon as I knew the other one wasn’t pulling me in. Who knows? At least I get to visit exciting worlds again.