Title: Zaria Fierce and the Secret of the Gloomwood Forest
Author: Keira Gillett
Series: Zaria Fierce #1
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Received for review from the Author
Summary (from Goodreads)
On her birthday, Zaria Fierce finds her usual path to school blocked by an ugly river-troll. At first she’s surprised and curious, but then Olaf threatens to eat her, which is an act Zaria could not in good conscience consent to, so Zaria counteroffers. A deal is struck and she goes to school, but Zaria is about to learn the hard way that one does not trick a river-troll and expect to win.
I’m a huge fan of mythology, and not well versed in Norse myths, so I was excited to get stuck in to this. Greek myths are so well explored in Middle Grade and YA fiction, it was refreshing to hear about the Wild Hunt and other more Northern European mythological constructs. I hope there are plenty of children who read this and are inspired by the new monsters and mythical beasts and look to explore this rich vein of mythology further.
The book itself isn’t without flaws. It’s not terrible by any stretch – short and sweet with some interesting ideas, moments of humour and peril in good balance, and an engaging ‘we must rescue our friend’ plot that I imagine kids will respond well to. I enjoyed listening to it (kudos to the incredible voice performance by narrator Michelle Carpenter) and finished the story with a smile on my face.
It does come partly down to the fact that I’m way outside the intended audience for this. But at the same time, I felt the book was a little uncertain about who its audience was. Length and content would suggest Middle Grade, but the language used sometimes was a bit too elevated. And unnecessarily so. Fairly early on, the kids talk about ‘evading parental supervision’ which was the first phrase to throw me out of the narrative a little. I can see how this is humorous, and on it’s own could be forgiven, but by the time Zaria starts needing to ‘corroborate her assumption’ I’m left wondering why these kids have swallowed thesauruses. I love that the book isn’t afraid to challenge younger readers with complicated vocabulary – what good is reading if you don’t learn a little from it? – but at times it was at the expense of authentic voices for the characters.
I also felt that there was a lack of the kids getting out of situations by their own ingenuity. They do escape a troll dungeon, but there’s a lot of them being rescued, or not having too much trouble escaping because they’re just kids, and their captors don’t think them that important. It was just a little too… easy for them at times. Which meant the story sometimes lacked a sense of peril – peril that was definitely present in the opening when Zaria’s facing being eaten by a bridge troll!
Overall, a solid read. Enjoyable, with interesting mythology. I wonder if it isn’t suffering a little from ‘set up’ syndrome, and now that the world is established, the characters given identities, that the second book in the series will take the story to new strengths. There’s certainly plenty of interesting stuff that happens right at the end – stuff with terrible consequences that Zaria is now obligated to fix. In fact, the ending was probably the strongest passage in the story, which gives me very high hopes for book two.