Knock Three Times (#3) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 17th September 2020 (print)/2nd June 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
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
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
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

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (#2) by Clint McElroy

Published: 16th July 2019Goodreads badge
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 240
Format: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

In the second Adventure Zone graphic novel (adapted from the McElroy family’s wildly popular D&D podcast), we rejoin hero-adjacent sort-of-comrades-in-arms Taako, Magnus, and Merle on a wild careen through a D&D railroad murder mystery. This installment has a little of everything: a genius child detective, an axe-wielding professional wrestler, a surly wizard, cursed magical artifacts, and a pair of meat monsters.

You know, the usual things you find on a train.

I squealed and smiled and was in a delightful mess of joyous emotions as I read this story. This arc of the Adventure Zone story has some great characters and some of the best interactions. I have no doubt my enjoyment was heightened because I have also listened to The Adventure Zone podcast but I think even without that there is a lot of humour and a great story to get involved with. You don’t have to know the podcast and you don’t have to know D&D to enjoy this, there are character introductions so you are reacquainted with known characters from the first story, or introduces them if this is your first experience, but there’s also stat sheets and introduction for new characters as well. There are great meta jokes and the rules of new items and spells are integrated seamlessly into the design of the pages so you have context for actions and know about weapons and spells.

There is a connection to Murder on the Orient Express, as evident not only from the title but the great train mystery Griffin has laid out. The trio of heroes Taako, Magnus, and Merle all return as they continue the Bureau of Balance’s missions to collect the relics, this time trapped on a train with a small circle of suspects and a mystery to solve. This arc introduces some of the best characters, many are reoccurring and some are brilliant one offs.

A special mention of course has to go to Carey for her amazing artwork. Her interpretation of these characters is divine. I loved her depictions of characters like Angus, Jess and Jenkins, not to mention those at the Bureau. Angus McDonald brings all his sarcasm and cuteness to the page without losing any of his charm. The art is just as important as the story because Carey makes every movement, every background character or action count. The tiny details make it an absolute joy because not only is the story brilliant, but there is an entire other level of enjoyment from her bright, colourful, emotional illustrations. The detail is amazing, the Easter eggs to past and future campaigns/characters are there for podcast listeners and even those who haven’t listened to it get great details like other adventures happening in the background and fun details and jokes.

I actually love the changed ending. It gives a great sense of the bigger picture and the grander adventure that is yet to come while not taking away from the original story. It may be different than the podcast, but Clint has reworked scenes and it still fits with who these characters are. We get a better insight into who they are earlier on with some great intrigue and foreshadowing. At the end of the book there are once again stunning artwork by various fans, each with their own interpretations of the characters and various scenes. It is wonderful to see so many different styles and how each player has been interpreted.

I don’t think I can express enough how hilarious this story is. It is funny in book form and there are wonderfully humorous moments where they break the fourth wall and once again interact with Dungeon Master Griffin. The mystery is pretty good as well. There are clues and surprises and a few moments I had forgotten about from the podcast that I loved reliving again. One thing I find interesting reading these graphic novels having also experienced the podcast is not only knowing what comes next, but I know what lines were omitted and what other aspects have been altered for adaptability. It is amazing to see the work Clint has done to make the story flow even though Griffin had already made a fantastic story and plot, to see it be translated to beautifully to the page is amazing.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

 WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Frankenstein Adventures by Bil Richardson

Published: 3rd October 2018Goodreads badge
Creator Studios
Pages: 136
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

This is the story of Frankenstein told from the vantage point of Igor, the bumbling, brave boy who will risk everything to save his master’s flawed creation. Hilarious and heart-warming – this is a book that will make you stand up and cheer one minute and fall down laughing the next. Igor’s heart is in the right place even though parts of his body aren’t. He is a loveable, lopsided fellow who has more courage and strength than any of the adults who look down on him. When things go wrong with his boss’s “experiment,” Igor sees it as his duty to save the day – even though most days he is the one who needs saving. Our hilarious hero has to overcome enormous odds on his mission to rescue the most important achievement in human history – the creation of life. Follow Igor on his amazing adventure to prove that he is more than just a not-so-pretty face.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

The blurb is slightly misleading, and while there is truth that Igor does set out the save his master’s creation, the story is not entirely his as the third person perspective offers insight into many different characters, new and old. While it is a retelling of the traditional Frankenstein story, Richardson takes it further and it becomes a story about family, friendship, and discovering the monsters of the world are not the most obvious.

The writing is straightforward but weave a detailed and in-depth story. The tone is one kids will love; Igor and the other characters are funny, there’s snark and drama and puns, and seeing the domestic side of Frankenstein brings in all the scary, gross, fun kids will love. Where Richardson shines is that while it is light-hearted and silly, there is also heart and warmth.

The first part of the narrative retells the original story with a few extra twists and characters to get to know. We follow Frankenstein’s monster as he flees the castle, we see locals as they hunt after him, and we follow the angst of Igor and his master as they work out what to do. From there we see the story continues through the eyes of various characters as the story moves into one of friendship, jealously, and drama.

The tone is suitable for the intended age group but there is no hiding from the scientific methods or descriptions either. We know Frank is burned, with scars and the traditional story is but a lot of the elements are there about violence too. The characters are sweet and endearing once the story gets going and you see the emotion and their misguided goodness. The violent side is restrained but regular but you see the good versus evil in each altercation and know who the bad guys are.

Richardson demonstrates that Frank (as he’s named himself) is not the real monster, nor is Frankenstein either. There are messages in there about kindness and being a friend and how monsters are made by people and what blind judgement can do. There is also a fantastic message about what makes a family. A great story for kids to enjoy where they can experience the Frankenstein story without delving right into Shelley’s horror masterpiece.

You can purchase The Frankenstein Adventures via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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