Friday, June 12, 2009

The Hound of Rowan

Title: The Hound of Rowan
Author: Henry H. Neff
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2008
Series: Book One of the Tapestry
Next in Series: The Second Siege

Max McDaniels and his dad are visiting the Chicago Art Museum like they do every year on his mother’s birthday. It’s their way of remembering her. While sketching a suit of armor, 12 year old Max is chased by a stranger and finds himself in an off limits section of the museum. It contains an old, dull tapestry, and Max can’t quite tell what it represents until with a twang it springs into a full color depiction of the cattle raid of Cooley. Little does Max realize that this has sparked his entry into a secret world of mysticism and mayhem as he is granted admission to the Rowan Academy.

But Rowan isn’t the only group that is interested in Max and his unique abilities. A dark group, called only the Enemy, are out to steal him as they have kidnapped so many other adept children before Max. And even his arrival at Rowan doesn’t stop them, for there is a traitor in the school, bent on its destruction.

Harry Potter set the standard that all other boarding school novels will be set against for quite some time, but Hound of Rowan stands up to it nicely. Thankfully, other than the fact that they both involve magical boarding schools and a powerful enemy, the books have little in common. Max is an exemplary student, most of the time, and sufficiently creative to weasel out of trouble just often enough to make the reader respect his ingenuity. He and his classmates cooperate well, and provide a great example of how much can be achieved if you work together.

Rowan, on the Connecticut Seaboard, delightfully blends magic and technology into a cohesive and believable environment. The students’ rooms are a fantastically creative and school grounds are well planned. Max’s classes catch the reader’s attention but the magic is so different from that used in the Harry Potter world that it is difficult to even compare the two.

A few of the schools’ inhabitants (mostly Mum and Bob) are silly enough to entertain the kids the book is written for, but a bit aggravating to adults reading along with them. Thankfully, they are relatively minor characters. My main gripe was the magical companions the students receive. Max’s companion, the last of the Black Forrest Lymrills, Nick, didn’t add anything to the story or seem to serve any purpose other than being “cool” or to provide an excuse to go to the sanctuary.

Overall, the story moved along at a quick clip, delightfully blending the modern world with Celtic mythology and magic.

Hound of Rowan is told in third person limited.

My Thoughts:
Hound of Rowan is Mr. Neff’s first book, and was a lot of fun to read. Kids and parents will both enjoy the quirky sense of humor and the shivers of excitement (and occasionally fear) that he draws into his prose. The grammar was well done, and all the characters spoke in ways you would expect. Very enjoyable.

Favorite Scene:
I loved the unsanctioned class expedition to the Kestrel. It made my spine tingle with the fear of being caught.

Who this book is best for:
I would put the target audience at 10-13, but it’s so well written that anyone can enjoy the story.

Violence: 2 of 5

Stars: 4 of 5

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