Never and Forever (#4) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 22nd September 2020  Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Xar and Wish are on the final leg of their journey. First stop: The Mines of Unhappiness. Here, starvation is never far away for the Magical creatures who toil in its horrible depths. Xar and Wish must escape and fast; Xar needs to take control of his ever-growing Witchstain, and Wish must achieve her Destiny. But the Tazzelwurm is in their way, a grotesque monster who threatens to block every entrance.

Time is not on their side, but the forests are calling them. Will their combined strength be enough for the BIGGEST quest so far; to defeat the Kingwitch once and for all?

With this being the final book in the Wizards of Once series I am a little sad it’s ending. I liked reading about Wish and Xar and their mismatched merry band of adventures but Cowell gives them a fitting send off and brings together everything that has been building up over the last three books. There are perils and sacrifices, magical powers and other things even more powerful at play and seeing our young heroes face these challenges and go against the odds is fantastic.

The whole series is about finding one’s true worth and capabilities and with the right guidance, gentle encouragement and positive reinforcements it shows how powerful that can be. The negativity of parents and evil doers in the story have been pushed against from the start and the contrast with characters who have faith and trust in Wish and Xar are a great example of nurturing giving the best results.

There are a lot of lessons learnt in this final story and the misjudgements and criticisms by characters are altered – which have been pointed out through the whole series by the narrator and other characters, but having it acknowledged is an important step. Cowell doesn’t do an immediate flip of opinion, she uses the characters to admit mistakes, realise where they’ve gone wrong, but she doesn’t redeem them entirely either which I found a great move because one small action can’t change a lifetime of habits.

Wish is still a stubborn and determined force as the fight to defeat the Kingwitch continues and it’s great to have her courage grow and see her seek guidance from those around her. Xar is wonderfully flawed in his own way – yet he is loyal and brave and seeking the approval of those around him. Cowell’s done a great job through this whole series showing that trying and failing is not worth nothing, and that the adventure and the experience can change you for the better despite any misgivings or mistakes. She also never makes us forget they are still children but the mission and the importance of success is a strong driving force and doing the right thing is what matters.

The unknown narrator once again is fantastic in their observations about children and adults, about responsibilities and doing the right thing. We do find out who this unknown entity has been the whole time and while it was an interesting surprise, I didn’t feel it overly remarkable.

I read the paperback version this time round and got to experience Cowell’s illustrations throughout. Her style is fascinating because it is simple but rough and complicated and I love her designs of the characters and creatures. With the paperback you miss out on the delightful David Tennant narrating but you get the two page spread of illustration and Cowell’s use of dark pages and sketches.

It’s a gripping and satisfying conclusion to this series. There are a lot of players by the end but Cowell balances it well and each gets their own ending and role to play. It wouldn’t be a Cowell story with some heartbreaking moments amongst those of triumph and while I didn’t start crying, there is no doubt she has power in her words that on the surface look whimsical and silly, but look closer and you can see commentary about love and justice, about bravery and believing in yourself. Also the failures of adults and the imperfections of the world and family.

I know there are mixed reactions to the final chapter and I’m torn about how I really feel about it – I liked it in some ways but I understand the criticism as well. It shoehorns the story but it is also a nice hint at future events. I agree on some level it was unnecessary but I can see what Cowell was trying to do. I only wish she’d known that her stories are wonderful and powerful enough without needing to end it how she did. In a way it takes away all the effort, creativity and uniqueness of the previous books.

Overall though, it is a beautiful story of found family with magic and adventure from the beginning until the very end.

You can purchase Never and Forever via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Long Lost Review: To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th June 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hot Key Books
Pages: 504
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy/Short Stories
★   ★  ★  ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure.

Nix has always been a masterful storyteller and these short stories are evidence of that. In a single story that focuses on one moment in time, Nix has the ability to give you an entire understanding of the world with only a few words and in doing so you gain total comprehension of what this world is like and who these characters are.

I loved the diversity and similarities in the stories, and I loved that they captivate you from the first sentence, drawing you in. It is always fantastic to return to the Old Kingdom and the story of the bridge is wonderful, but the short stories are pretty amazing as well. Set across different genres and eras Nix’s voice is through all of them and it’s amazing to see his twists on genre, well-known stories and mythologies.

Across the 18 stories there are vampires, unicorns, spies and legendary kings to name a few, as well as further stories about Nix’s own work. The way Nix mixes together multiple elements and builds them into the new story is incredible and seeing the familiar references or inspiration throughout shows off how clever he can be.

I love everything Nix does and with a collection like this it goes to show that my admiration isn’t unsubstantiated.

You can purchase To Hold the Bridge via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Knock Three Times (#3) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 17th September 2020 (print)/2nd June 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books/Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 384/ 6 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: David Tennant
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Xar and Wish are heroes with a huge task ahead–confronting the Nuckalavee is not for the faint hearted. But with Magic and Iron together, they might just have a chance of saving their beloved homes from those who seek to destroy everything they hold dear. The third electrifying book in The Wizards of Once series fizzes with magic and introduces us to a host of glorious new characters: bears and piskies and magical pins and needles to name but a few.

There is something wonderful about Cowell’s stories. I love her writing and the language she uses, the way it’s telling us a story and the voice brings cheekiness and drama, but also a type of sorrow as well. The matter of fact approach to narration is an extra delight and it’s the combination of all of these types of writing that make this series so enjoyable.

Cowell balances the silly and the quirky with the serious and the dangerous. The world she has created flips from fun to dangerous easily and the suspense and tension over what is going to happen remains even while there are jokes flying about and quirky characters around.

I think this may be my favourite out of the three, there is so much going on and the humour and plot is on point and every character plays a role. There is adventure and revelations, fun times and sadness, and I adore how Cowell can make serious topics fit so beautifully in amongst a seemingly light hearted fantasy story.

There is a more in-depth look at both Sychorax and Encanzo and their relationship and histories, as well as the origin of the Wizard/Warrior feud. We also see a greater insight into the supporting characters that surround our two heroes. Their own stories get some attention and in doing so broadens our understanding of the world.

I know I say this every time, but David Tennant’s narration is once again pure and magical. He should be in charge of narrating all the books for the rest of time. Cowell’s writing is already fun and full of wit but Tennant’s delivery and inflection bring it off the page and it sucks you into the story so well.

As the penultimate book in the series Cowell is building up to a grand finale and with all that happens and is revealed in this book I can only imagine what is coming for the grand conclusion. This series is all about mischievous children, long standing feuds, curses, magic and adventure. It’s also filled with wit, charm, and sorrow making it a beautifully complex story about a complex world filled with complex characters and it’s an utter delight to read about.

You can purchase Knock Three Times via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Twice Magic (#2) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 20th September 2018 (print)/29th November 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books/Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 384/5 hrs and 36 mins
Narrator: David Tennant
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

This was once the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who had been taught since birth to hate each other like poison.

But now, the boy Wizard and girl Warrior have been brought together in the Badwoods and they have witnessed the shocking consequences of the Stone That Takes Away Magic. They will need to cast aside their differences once more–for an Evil Spell has broken free.

It’s up to Xar and Wish to find the ingredients. But it means entering dangerous territory unannounced…

After the dramatic conclusion to the previous book, Xar and Wish must face the consequences of the actions in the previous book but also know they must get on with the next stage of their quest. I love the reality that while these two children can go on magical quests and face danger and uncertainty, they also still have to answer to their parents and do regular everyday things.

We are shown more backstory regarding the feud between the witches and the warriors and the complexity of the whole situation is only increased by Wish and Xar working together. I loved the extra details we’re given about how each society is run through Xar and Wish and their relationship with their parents. Cowell’s managed to create two characters who are trying to do the right thing, but through good intentions and poor decisions also cause chaos in their wake.

Cowell’s humour and her imagination are commendable once more and now with an understanding of these characters and the world it is easy to fall back into the story and continue on with the next stage of their journey. The new dangers, old dangers, mysteries and curses that follow them bring suspense and excitement and Cowell is very clever in balancing the level of danger with the humour as well as showing there are real consequences in this world despite it being a silly book. There are different types of baddies, some which pose greater threats than others, and we also see our little band of heroes grow in determination and confidence as they try and do the right thing.

As expected, Tennant as the unknown narrator is sublime. His different accents, his voice work for all the different characters is incredible and the singing! Who doesn’t love David singing in funny voices? With the audio experience there are also a range of sound effects and noises scattered throughout which add to the narrative. Bangs, crashes, and magical noises add a little something and are a reasonable substitute for missing out on the illustrations.

What I love about the unknown narrator is that they make little statements about the characters and their behaviours and it’s wonderful how they can point out how foolish the adults and being and it’s up to the children to do something to save the day while also acknowledging the same children can be foolish and reckless. It’s a fantastic balance that doesn’t idolise or demonise one side over another, something Cowell also shows in her writing remarkably well.

The glossary at the end tells you all about the words, creatures, and spells that have been introduced in the book and while the unknown narrator interrupts in their usual capacity with explanations throughout the story, I love that there is still a glossary which stops the main story from requiring any long explanations, especially since we’re to believe the characters are familiar with the world and thus only are unaware of new things they come across.

Once again with a conclusion that leaves you hanging Cowell makes you want to jump into the next book. As this story goes on more is revealed but more is also still unanswered. Knowing how Cowell can create a story of epic proportions from a deceptively simple story I am enthusiastic for what awaits in book three.

You can purchase Twice Magic via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wizards of Once (#1) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 19th September 2017 (print)/19th September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books/Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 393/5 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: David Tennant
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests.

Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods.

Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish.

And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

Xar and Wish must visit the dungeons at Warrior fort, and face the evil Queen.

But something that has been sleeping for hundreds of years is stirring…

Cressida Cowell books are something of magic themselves because I get so much pleasure from reading them. I loved her writing style and the humour she puts into her stories. Not to mention the creativity and imagination of the stories and how in a way the reader becomes a character in the story too.

The world Cowell has created contains magic and non-magic folk, as well as an ongoing long established feud between wizards and warriors. I found it really easy to fall into this world. Cowell establishes the rules and the laws early on and through the myriad of characters there are different roles for everyone to play in passing on information to the reader. There is never a moment where it became too complex or confusing which is an advantage of having a narrator who doesn’t mind breaking the fourth wall and addressing and problems right away.

The unknown narrator acts as our guide and their role is to tell us the story but I love how the narrator knows all and yet knows very little at the same time. It’s delightful as it varies from ‘I know the future and it’s awfully dangerous just wait and see’ to ‘I’m only the narrator and I only know so much I don’t know what is going on either”. They are also wonderful at explaining certain aspects of the story that need more clarity and the way they address the reader is great because it reinforces that this is a story being told to people, the small pauses to interject explanations are wonderful and it’s like a pause in the story to clear up any confusion before they proceed again.

Through Xar and Wish’s actions we gain an understanding about how the world works and with each child having a small group of friends, bodyguards, and guides, their little band of assorted creatures create all sorts of mischief which pull the story along. To be fair, the story is also full of chaos. There’s drama and danger, angry parents to deal with, not to mention the growing threat around them.

The audiobook was simply divine to listen to. David Tennant reads the story and his voice is perfect on all fronts. Listening to him do various voices for all the different characters was incredibly entertaining because when you are dealing with magical creatures there are a great deal of voices to choose from. I know I missed out on some illustrations that were in the physical book, but listening to Tennant’s voices was a pure delight I couldn’t ever switch back now.

I am excited to keep going with this series because even one book down I am invested in these characters and I love this story. It’s got elements of fantasy, adventure, friendship and utter and complete chaos. It is the perfect introduction to this new world and these characters while also being incredibly entertaining.

You can purchase Wizards of Once via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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