Spirit Animals Fall of the Beasts Book 1: Immortal Guardians by Eliot Schrefer
Published by Scholastic, April 11, 2015. Paper-over-board of 192 pages at $12.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: The covers for the original Spirit Animals series were impressive and Angelo Rinaldi does an impressive job on this initial installment, too. Before an enormous castle, probably in Greenhaven — the home of the Greencloaks, Conor and Meilin hold their weapons ready as three spirit animals are sprinting toward the reader: Jhi the panda, Briggan the wolf, and Essix the hawk. The layout is great, with all the characters clearly seen against an epic background, and the colors are wonderful. I especially like the red glow coming off of Briggan, suggesting that he’s just sprung from Conor’s arm. This was designed by Charice Silverman & Rocco Melillo. Excellent! Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the back cover, “Chaos Reborn. In the world of Erdas, every child must discover if they will summon a spirit animal, a rare and incredible gift. Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan were rare even among those few. Each of them summoned legendary animals — brave guardians who were reborn to protect their world. Now more of these legends are appearing across Erdas, bonded to special children. But a dark force has emerged. Older than memory, it has slept for centuries beneath the surface of the world. With the power to tear away spirit animals, it begins a rampage that will be felt in every corner of Erdas. If the young heroes can’t stop it, the darkness will first consume the spirit animals…and then consume the world.” I read the previous series and was impressed by the characters and the twists in the story, so I’m looking forward to reading this and am hoping that it will be as good. Overall grade: A
The characters: Conor is a brash young man who acts before thinking, though he’s a little more tempered in this book than he was in the previous series. Meilin is a trained fighter who exhibits a fear of heights that, naturally, comes to the front at a crucial time. Thankfully, her relationship with Jhi is much better, with her understanding him and able to use him much more efficiently. Abeke gets an early action scene that puts her and Rollan into danger, and her past is able to help a new character better acclimate to his spirit animal. Rollan is still having issues when he transfers his mind into Essix so he can see things from the hawk’s point of view. The four must split into pairs — Conor and Meilin, and Abeke and Rollan, with the former investigating a strange gateway and the latter checking into how former foe Zerif is able to take spirit animals from others. Along the way, each twosome encounters new friends, with Conor and Meilin meeting the most interesting, and Abeke and Rollan encountering someone very similar to her. Zerif is a spectacularly horrific villain, who appears in the first chapter to brutally take a new spirit animal from a child. He’s using slugs that, faster than you can say “Ceti Alpha V eel”, enter the animals’ ears and render them as slaves. This frightening ability is later shown to be one aspect of something that foreshadows the end of the world. The other major antagonist is a group that appears in the later half of the book that shares a yucky similarity with Zerif. I won’t spoil their name or abilities, but a parent could think of them as being similar to characters from AMC’s current ratings powerhouse series. There is also a returning foe, “the” foe from the previous series, but his motivations are left unknown. Overall grade: A
The settings: The two primary settings are northern Amaya, similar to Canada, and the underworld. Schrefer expertly brings the northern wilderness to life, but its tough for it to hold a candle to the underworld. This location contains the expected thrills of dark passageways, crumbling walls and ceilings, and the threat of nocturnal animals. Happily, these are included, but joining them is a fantastic secret civilization with odd structures and an excellent way to defend itself. This was the show piece of the book and I won’t go further to discuss so as not to spoil it. I’d pay some good money to see this civilization in a film. Overall grade: A
The action: The opening with Zerif is a terrific beginning, setting a very strong threat for the heroes. Readers should expect his next return to be even more dangerous, and it is — it closes the book. Before that happens, Abeke involves herself and Conor in a situation that she should have left well enough alone. It’s a very strong action sequence, and very believable. Underground has the most action, which resembles the intensity of a George Romero movie. These scenes are intense, but not graphic. There’s a lot of action in this book. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: There isn’t one. Things are left unresolved with a cliffhanger. Readers are made aware of this, as this is the first book in a series of five. This frustrated me, but I went in knowing this would happen. Still, I was enjoying this and now have to wait until January for the next installment. Overall grade: B
The final line: An enjoyable sequel that requires no previous reading to understand. Sure to entertain those craving adventure with a bit of magic included. Overall grade: A