March 29, 2007


The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 5: Lady Friday. By Garth Nix. Scholastic. $17.99.

The Golden Hamster Saga, Book IV: The Haunting of Freddy. By Dietlof Reiche. Illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Scholastic. $5.99.

Rainbow Magic: The Weather Fairies. No. 7: Hayley the Rain Fairy. By Daisy Meadows. Little Apple/Scholastic. $4.99.

      Three series entries: one complex and multifaceted, one simpler and more amusing, one the least prepossessing of all. Three places in their respective series: one is fifth out of seven, one is fourth out of five, and one is the seventh and last. All these books hold up their end of things well; none deviates from what has become expected; and none represents the right place to start making the acquaintance of the characters, since all depend so heavily on what has gone before.

      The Keys to the Kingdom is a much-altered retelling of Arthurian legend, with a hero named Arthur Penhaligon as the Rightful Heir to the Architect of the House, seeking a series of keys that will allow him to fulfill his destiny. In each book, Arthur must overcome another Trustee and obtain another key, and he has done so four times as Lady Friday opens. But all is not well in Arthur’s quest: his friends have been captured, and various characters are blocking Arthur in a variety of nefarious (and interesting) ways. For example, Superior Saturday has blocked the House’s front door and turned off all the elevators. A reader coming anew to this series with Lady Friday will find the book quite confusing, with its talk of Nithlings and Denizens and the treachery that Arthur finds at Binding Junction. But readers who have already finished the first four books will enjoy the way Lady Friday moves Arthur’s story along, as he eventually reaches Lady Friday’s Scriptorium and gets a golden opportunity to advance his quest – unless, of course, it is all a clever trap. Garth Nix keeps his characters strange (one is called Part Five of the Will, and at one point there is a battle against dangerous infiltrating plants). “Knowledge, like all things, is best in moderation,” Arthur is told near this novel’s end – but Arthur clearly has more to learn, and will do so in the sixth book, called by the name of this book’s door-blocker, Superior Saturday.

      The Haunting of Freddy is part of an amusingly silly series rather than an offbeat heroic-fantasy sequence. Freddy is a top-notch writer who is currently working on an adventure series set in the 16th century. Freddy is also a hamster. And when the characters in his work, “The Lord of the Ferrets,” come to life, Freddy and his friends find themselves journeying to an English castle to defend a human family from vengeful ghosts. And defend some rabbits, too – this is that kind of book and that kind of series. Dietlof Reiche’s style, as translated by John Brownjohn, moves trippingly along, and Joe Cepeda’s amusing illustrations invariably make the text even funnier. One example, involving the friendly singing guinea pigs who travel along with Freddy: “Like a pair of rockets, Enrico and Caruso shot out of the central rabbit hole so fast, they sailed through the air and landed with two dull thuds” – and are shown popping out of a hole with thoroughly startled expressions on their faces. This is a fine and funny entry in a series that is soon to conclude with Freddy’s Final Quest.

      The Weather Fairies series has concluded already, with the seventh and last adventure of Rachel and Kirsty and the magic feathers that the girls need to restore to their fairy owners. Mischief-making Jack Frost has had his goblins steal the feathers, but the human girls have recovered them, one by one, largely by outthinking the goblins, who are not terribly bright (or, for that matter, terribly evil). While a goblin holds a feather, the weather associated with that feather gets wacky, so in Hayley the Rain Fairy the big problem is a flood – which the girls defeat by tricking the goblin into trading his real rain feather for a phony sun feather (the goblins are eminently trickable). Unfortunately, the recovery of this final feather brings Jack Frost himself into the picture – but thanks to help from an unlikely source (well, not unlikely to readers of the series), he is soon sent away, and Rachel and Kirsty earn the gratitude of everyone in Fairyland, leading to a big happy ending. A pleasant diversion for young readers, The Weather Fairies contains few surprises but lots of warmth and good feelings – all the way to the end.

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