Spirit Animals, Book 6–Rise and Fall by Eliot Schrefer
Published by Scholastic, January, 2015. Hardcover of 187 pages at $12.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
The cover: Conor and his spirit animal, Briggan the wolf, stand back as Cabaro the Great Lion lets loose a roar to those before him, while just behind him are a pride of females. Excellent image from Angelo Rinaldi, with the cover designed by SJI Associates, Inc. and Keirsten Geise. The lighting behind the lion makes it look more ferocious, and that’s absolutely in line with how this character appears in this book. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the back cover: “Sundown. Deep in the desert there sits a beautiful oasis, ruled by a monarch unlike any other in Erdas. His name is Cabaro, the Great Lion, and he reigns over a kingdom of animals, jealously guarding his golden talisman. No human has ever set foot in the Great Beast’s territory. The journey to his oasis is impossible. As a team, Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan have achieved the impossible before. But now that team is broken–the friends shattered by a devastating betrayal. They young heroes and their spirit animals have already sacrificed much in their quest for the talismans. But with the world crumbling all around them–and a ruthless enemy opposing their every move–their greatest sacrifices are yet to come.” I haven’t read one of these books since the second in the series, so this was a good way to remind me of the leads and what their goals are. They’re still looking to recover animal totems so they can prevent Gerathon the Giant Serpent from waking the Giant Ape which will destroy the world. Good to see that their adventures haven’t been easy and they’ve become separated. This could be good. Overall grade: A
The characters: The boys, Conor and Rollan, have been separated from the girls, Abeke and Meilin. It was good to see that Rollan has bonded more with his animal, Essix the falcon, and can now see what the bird sees when it soars high above. Conor’s bond with Briggan the wolf is still strong, and his animal spirit got really pumped up when they encounter Cabaro. The boys have a good working relationship, with Conor being the most emotional of the pair, speaking his heart when others bow to formality. It was good to see these two opposites working well. Abeke and Meilin have been captured by the Conquerors. In a previous adventure it was revealed that Meilin had been forced to consume the bile of the snake, and was able to be controlled by the venomous serpent. She became an unwitting traitor to her friends and their mission and her capture with Abeke is the end result of her treachery. She was a surprisingly complex character for a book written for such young readers–she felt compelled to make things right, but realized she couldn’t be trusted because the snake could take control of her at any time. Her final scene in this book is a heartbreaker. Abeke is looking to escape from her captors, but wants to take Meilin with her. She’s confused on how to help her friend, and will sacrifice herself to help Mielin. There are three main villains in this book. Shane, the young Conqueror who is the nicest of all the villains to the captured girls, has his character grow in surprising ways. Gerneral Gar is the leader of the Conquerors whose spirit animal is a Giant Crocodile, who has a surprising turn of his own. The final big bad is Gertathon the Giant Serpent whose presence terrifies its allies. Cabaro is the wild card of the book. It’s understandable why he won’t help the humans, but his stubborn nature could be his undoing. All the characters are more complex than one would expect and each will find a place in readers’ hearts. Overall grade: A
The settings: Erdas is a modified version of Earth. Okaihee is a location familiar to readers, as it’s the home of Abeke. It is most similar to the plains of Africa, and it is suffering a tremendous drought. Sadness and pain are evident in its descriptions and its people. The Conquerors have taken over a palace of one of the lords of the Niloan stepps, and it’s a classic Roman palace, complete with columns, and serves as a elegant backdrop for the horrors that occur there. The final major setting is the secluded oasis in the southern desert of Nilo. A classic lush oasis describes it best, though I was really impressed by the gauntlet one must pass in order to gain entrance to it–that was something I’d never read before. Overall grade: A
The action: The girls deal with the expected psychological tortures of being held prisoner and unsure of their fates until something happens to change one character’s path. The boys have the much more direct action once they encounter Cabaro, and the army that seeks to kill the lion. The build up to both action sequences went quickly and once they began were very entertaining. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: A cliffhanger of an ending, with our heroes seeming to be on the losing end, though Rollan produces part of their salvation. I liked that though they seemed to be beaten, but not all hope is lost. Overall grade: A
NOTE: This book also contains a code, as do all the books in this series, for readers to go to a website and create their own character and animal spirit so they can go on quests to save Erdas. This is a neat way to enhance the book’s adventure and an excellent way to bide time waiting for the next book in the series.
The final line: An outstanding story that will have readers feverishly turning pages to see what happens to the young heroes. Overall grade: A