London, 1812 - Yount, Year of the Owl What would you give to make good on the sins of your past? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything.When emissaries from a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he accepts their price to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use to unlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount's jailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas's nephew. A fallen angel, a monstrous owl with eyes of fire, will unleash Hell if Yount is freed. And, meanwhile, Barnabas's niece, Sally, and a mysterious pauper named Maggie seek with dream-songs to wake the sleeping goddess who may be the only hope for Yount and Earth alike.
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This was a surprising novel and very hard to review. It is certainly a fantasy with some elements of steampunk and some elements of historical fiction but I find it quite difficult to pin it to a definite sub-genre. Although it has a fairy tale quality to it, it is a book that is written to be read on many levels. You would have to be extremely well read to catch all the many literary, mythological, historical, and Biblical references (some of them quite sly) in this book, but it could be read by an older child for just the basic story since it is adventuresome and fun. And, I found the illustrations that are in the print version online and I'm sure a child would love the pictures. There are 3 major characters that are teenagers which may be why some people have labeled this book as YA and I think the book does provide two pretty terrific young heroines, but I don't think the novel fits any YA pattern I've seen.
Rabuzzi starts the story in 1812 London and paints an accurate picture of that time/place while at the same time throwing in references to fictional books and characters as though they were part of real history. He is using the same historical time period for this novel as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series with the Napoleonic wars in the background and The Choir Boats reminded me a bit of that series in tone, but Rabuzzi uses a wider and richer vocabulary and much of his prose is truly beautiful. Steampunk is not the plot driver in this book that it is in some of the genre, but Rabuzzi weaves a bit of it in when the characters advance in their quest for Yount, a mystical world that exists in parallel with our own world, the fate of which seems to be intertwined with our own.
This is a quest fantasy with a lot of humor. And although the characters are a bit bolder than life, they are lovingly detailed and interesting. One of the things I enjoyed the most is the way Rabuzzi took a "good guy" and slowly revealed a back story that made you see him as much more human than he looked at first. And, he also took a "bad guy" and gave him so much more context as the story unfolded, you begin to doubt if he is evil at all.
There are a few places where I felt the narrative slowed a bit, but overall the pacing was good and I was never bored. There are a couple of romantic stories woven into the plot, but no sex scenes, coarse language, or really graphic violence so the book should be fine for younger readers although the vocabulary may be challenging for some. All in all, I found this to be an impressive debut novel - very entertaining, a little challenging, and a lot of fun. My only minor criticism is that it ends with a cliff hanger so you will probably want to plan on getting the next in the series, The Indigo Pheasant, scheduled for release 6/12/13.
Kieron Elliott adds a LOT to the audio version of this book. I was a little unsure about him when I started the audio because his Scottish accent is quite pronounced. It took a few minutes for my ears to adjust to that, but then I found that I really got pulled into the book quickly because of this voice. Elliott has a rich voice that is easy on the ears and the Scottish accent (the "hero family" is Scottish) added much to setting the right mood for the tale.
I highly recommend the book, but be prepared to do some Googling if your memory isn't quite up to speed on Moses and Jambres, African mythology, the Bermuda Triangle, Jewish Cabalism, etc.