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

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

Rick by Alex Gino

Published: 21st April 2020 (print)/22 April 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic
Pages: 240/3 hrs and 27 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that … understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

This is set in the same universe as George and takes place a couple years after the events in that book but this time we focus on a different character. Rick, who we met as a side character before, now takes centre stage and we see him a little older, a little wiser but also a little more confused.  You do not need to have read George to understand this story but it was wonderful to see what happened after the events in that book even if it isn’t the focus of the story.

It was amazing to see this story grow and develop and see Rick grow and develop along with it. Rick and Jeff’s friendship is one that kids form when they’re young: easy, they have fun together, they have a great time, but as they both start to get older their different personalities start to develop and this is where conflictions can occur.

As readers we’re meant to think Jeff is a creep straight away even if Rick doesn’t see it or completely agree, as everything about Jeff’s language and behaviour is gross and/or offensive. My limited understanding of American middle school is that these kids are in year six. They are eleven and twelve years old and they’re talking about girls in totally creepy and sexist ways. It is one way to show how Rick feels by seeing him fight emotionally against what Jeff does and says, but he doesn’t stop how Jeff keeps objectifying these girls.

Rick’s dad is also a sexist and a creep, he says inappropriate things to Rick and I liked that Rick’s response to this is that he feels like he’s “coated in a sticky layer of ick” when he hears it. He also doesn’t like that people expect him to become a ‘hormonal beast’ now he’s in middle school. Which again, is now he’s twelve. Even at my age I feel dirty hearing that phrase.  I am not blaming Gino for this at all and I love that they highlight the weird and inappropriate language people use around kids of a certain age, especially boys. I love that our main character doesn’t feel comfortable hearing this kind of talk and it’s great that Gino shows him working out who he is and makes it ok that he feels confused about his identity.

There is a great representation and exploration of the LGBTQIA+ community and it was great to see kids this age be so supportive and open about who they are, as well as so understanding of those who are still trying to figure themselves out. The kids manage to teach the adults something and the story explores great themes like acceptance, understanding, and support.

Melissa (who we’re introduced to in George) is in the story and I loved seeing her again and seeing her story after the end of George but I also loved that she doesn’t take centre stage. Rick’s story isn’t connected to Melissa’s and while she is in his story, I love how Gino hasn’t connected the two stories in such an obvious way.

There are other things Gino explores about getting to know and understand family and accepting the differences and realising there is a lot more to a person than there first appears. The relationship he has with his grandpa is sweet and it was a nice safe place for Rick to talk about his feelings and not be ridiculed or embarrassed.

This is a fairly quick read but it covers a lot of topics and explores a range of important topics not only about the LGBTQIA+ community but also about being a good person, a good friend and knowing you have the ability to make big decisions even at such a young age. I can’t wait to see what else Gino does next because based on these last two books I can only imagine it’ll be just as wonderful.

You can purchase Rick via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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