Author: Aimée Carter
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Length: 304 pages
Source: eGalley via NetGalley
The excitement continues for the secret race of animal shape-shifters with a hero “worthy of a young Harry Potter” (Booklist Online).
Simon Thorn's life is almost unrecognizable from a few months ago. Along with a surprise twin brother and an uncle he never knew, Simon has also found his first real friends to hang out, train, and study with at the secret Animalgam Academy. The only piece missing is his mother, held captive by his evil grandfather, Orion, who's bent on taking over the five kingdoms.
To rescue his mother, Simon sets off cross-country with his friends to the reptile kingdom, battling rogue Animalgams and their own doubts and torn loyalties along the way. But if he’s going to stop Orion, Simon will need to keep him from gathering together the fragments of a terrible weapon, or the lives of everyone Simon loves will be at risk.
With action and adventure, this story is perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Brandon Mull.
Protagonist: After losing his Uncle Darryl, the man who raised him, and his mom's kidnapping, Simon doesn't quite feel at home in the L.A.I.R. Sure he has his newly discovered brother, Nolan, who he still has a touchy relationship with, and his Uncle Malcolm, the mammal kingdom's new Alpha, but he misses his mother more than anything, even though she lied to him and was rarely around. So, when evidence of where she may be held shows up he needs to act quickly. Escaping the L.A.I.R. with his friends won't be easy, but they need to travel to Arizona and straight to the heart of the Reptile Kingdom. In this installment, Simon's character development is heavily focused on belonging and family. He has two grandparents who would kill him if he got in the way of their plans, and who would definitely kill his brother, he isn't sure if Malcolm is caring for him because he wants to or because Darryl made him promise to, and he tries to keep his distance from Nolan because if Nolan ever found out that he isn't the only heir to the Beast King and that Simon inherited those abilities as well, he would never forgive Simon. I really liked Simon in this installment, even though I couldn't personally relate to him, as I sometimes feel smothered by family and feel very comfortable where I live, I could still sympathize with his plight and every choice he made because of the pain he feels and the longing he has felt very genuine. I loved his development over the course of this book and can't wait to see what new developments await in future installments.
World Building: With the first book in this series setting up not only the Animalgam world for readers and the overarching plot of the series, the hunt for the pieces of The Predator and protecting the Beast King's heir(s), there wasn't all that much time to get to see outside of the L.A.I.R. let alone outside of New York. In this installment, our heroes travel across the country to visit the reptile kingdom. Their mission is two-fold, rescue Simon's mom and obtain the reptiles' piece of The Predator. Along the way they run into other Animalgams who's lives are very different than those at the L.A.I.R. Since most of the mammals at the L.A.I.R. are predators we never really get to see what life is like for those whose animal forms don't seem to be able to defend themselves. Also, with Malcolm's title as Alpha so new, Celeste isn't down for the count. This is a woman who's made it her life's work to gain the powers of the Beast King and a simple exile isn't going to stop her plans. Ironically, Simon's other grandparent has similar aspirations and as Orion has Isabel, Simon's mother and the only one outside the kingdoms who knows where the pieces of the predator are hidden, as his captive it's only a matter of time before he puts his plan into motion and tracks down someone to force Isabel to talk. I really enjoyed getting to see a larger version of the Animalgam world. While we really have a large focus on the Reptile Kingdom, it's a fascinating look into the politics of this world. It's a very democratic system, though others seem to exert pressure on those who are supposed to have the same amount of power. I loved getting to see a little piece of their world and am ready for the next kingdom.
Predictability: Going into this book I had pretty high expectations for the story. I thought I had it all figured out. Well, not all, but I thought I had a general idea of where the story was going to go and both how the plot, as well as the character development, was headed. Soon enough, however, I realized that I may have jumped the gun a bit. As the story unfolded my ideas of what was going to happen changed and even then the author was able to throw in some killer twists. A point of pride for me is my ability to catch on to small bits of foreshadowing and figure out where the story is headed, and when I guess something huge, something that I feel the author would have though impossible to guess, I surge with pride. However, I still find myself more entertained and more delighted to see when an author pulls the rug out from under me and creates a major wrinkle in the story that alters how the series will proceed from here on out. While there wasn't anything that cataclysmic that went on in this book there are things that will be small game changers and hopefully add to an exciting third installment.
Ending: As we get to the end of the book, and honestly I would consider this book as having a substantial ending as, after a certain point, there's an air of tension that doesn't go away until after the final climax. There's a lot that revealed in this ending so I won't spend too much time talking about it and I won't spoil anything, but this story does create a turning point in the narrative. Soon enough it becomes clear where this series is going next, both in the literal sense, as in which kingdom we're visiting next, and more in the metaphoric with the main goals of our characters. The final climax winds things down and brings in some new wrinkles to the story that if they pan out like I hope and expect it will make for a very exciting next installment.
This book is incredible. I love how the story of this world evokes the same feelings as a Rick Riordan book, and yet still has something about it that makes it incredibly unique. While there were a few things I was hoping to see in this book, it looks like that may be saved for book 3, so I'm appeased for now, but still chomping at the bit for what comes next!