April 30, 2015
(+++) SECOND CHANCES
Eddie Red, Undercover: Book 2—Mystery in Mayan Mexico. By Marcia Wells. Illustrated by Marcos Calo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.
The Maeve’ra Trilogy, Volume II: Bloodkin. By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Delacorte Press. $16.99.
Deception’s Princess 2: Deception’s Pawn. By Esther Friesner. Random House. $17.99.
The same, only more so. That is a fair description of second books, whether they are sequels, the middle books of trilogies, or part of an ongoing series that will last who-knows-how-long. The last of these categorizations fits the second volume of Eddie Red, Undercover, whose first entry was Mystery on Museum Mile. That first book introduced Eddie and his best friend, Jonah, in a mystery filled with twists and turns that contained some (mostly mild) real danger and needed to be solved with brain power rather than violence. Now comes Mystery in Mayan Mexico, which – surprise – includes Eddie and Jonah in another twists-and-turns-filled story requiring brains rather than brawn to solve a mystery. Like the earlier book, this one benefits from the detailed pencil portraits of Marcos Calo, which make the characters come alive to a greater extent than Marcia Wells’ prose generally does on its own. Unlike the earlier novel, this one includes a third amateur sleuth in the person of a girl named Julia, who becomes a sort-of-girlfriend for Jonah – to just about the right extent for a book aimed at and featuring sixth-graders. Mystery of Mayan Mexico starts with Eddie, Jonah and Eddie’s parents on a two-week Mexican vacation, where Eddie hopes to forget all about the art-heist caper that occurred in the first book and led to his being grounded (it helps to have read that book to enjoy this one, although it is not absolutely necessary). Eddie’s photographic memory is introduced quickly, so new readers will understand its importance and old ones will be reminded of it. Indeed, as Eddie explains, “Last winter, the NYPD secretly hired me because of my photographic memory and my ability to draw near-perfect pictures.” Jonah hopes to have a better adventure this time than last, when “all I got was a stupid sinus infection,” but as the book develops – of course it is not a vacation story but another mystery – Jonah’s role is, again, to get sick and stay that way (not a very flattering use of a sidekick, but Wells seems to think it is offbeat enough to be interesting to young readers). What happens here is that Eddie’s father’s fingerprints are found inside a glass case from which a valuable artifact has been stolen, so of course he is accused of the crime, and of course Eddie and Jonah work with the police (as happened before) and then realize they have to solve the case on their own (as also happened before). Eventually, thanks to a combination of unlikely events involving a real threat, real danger, a broken bone and some projectile vomiting, the case is indeed solved, Eddie’s father is exonerated, and the trip back to New York City is uneventful until – at the very end of the book – the art thief from the previous book reappears, setting the stage for the next entry in this series, to be called Doom at Grant’s Tomb.
The Maeve’ra Trilogy is intended for teenagers rather than preteens, and for that reason introduces more-adult themes than are to be found in the Eddie Red stories. Bloodkin, however, is even more of a continuation of the events of its predecessor, Bloodwitch, than the second Eddie Red book is of the events in the first. For her series, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes has created a world called Midnight in which vampires and shapeshifters have the power and the 16-year-old protagonist, Kadee, finds herself caught between them and within their machinations. Unlike the second Eddie Red book, this second one about Kadee really does require familiarity with the first novel in its series: much of what Kadee goes through and worries about in Bloodkin traces directly back to events and decisions she made in Bloodwitch. Readers need to be thoroughly familiar with the various types of beings in Midnight in order to accept and easily follow Kadee’s narration: “Though I knew all three Shantel royals, I had never met the sakkri, with her gift of prophecy. The Shantel’s most sacred witch was chosen by the land itself, and recognized at birth by the ‘white curse,’ a mark visible on both her human and animal forms. …A sakkri had no parents, no lovers, no friends.” Here as in so many other stories, prophecies are, of course, ambiguous: “That was prophecy; it was abstract and far away, talk of ‘someday’ and ‘imagine when.’” So it is no surprise that what Kadee learns (from multiple sources) becomes clear only as the book moves toward its climax. The result is lines such as, “I was reminded of what the deathwitch had said: he is broken, and does not know how to love something and let it be free.” Much of Bloodkin rehashes events of the previous novel and has Kadee trying to come to terms with what she has done as well as who she is (which was the focus of the first book). This second book deepens the story being told in the trilogy without really advancing it very much. It does end with a line common, in virtually identical words, to many other second books of trilogies: “It was time to make a stand.” So there is no question that Atwater-Rhodes has more action, and perhaps less back-and-forth talkiness, in store for the upcoming conclusion of The Maeve’ra Trilogy.
There is a Maeve in Deception’s Pawn, too: she is the princess who is the protagonist of this follow-up to Deception’s Princess. A two-book series rather than a longer sequence, Esther Friesner’s fantasy adventure is, like The Maeve’ra Trilogy, aimed at teenage readers – primarily if not exclusively girls, since Maeve of Connacht is clearly intended as a role model of a strong-willed, self-reliant would-be ruler. This pair of books takes place in a fictionalized Celtic world, which means Deception’s Pawn, like its predecessor, is filled with names such as Clothru (pronounced KLAW-rah), Eithne (EN-ah), Cineád (kee-NOD), Conchobar (koh-NA-ber), and Caer Ibormeith (KER eh-BROOM-mah). The pronunciation guide at the book’s end is worth studying before entering or re-entering Friesner’s setting, which otherwise seems unnecessarily opaque. The story itself, though, is straightforward enough, as Maeve continues asserting herself, finding out who she is and what her limits are, and discovering which relatives and other characters are really important to her now and in the future: “I was not running away, but flying to my heart’s home, to the one who had always been my shelter without ever being my prison.” Maeve eventually comes into her own through cleverness and subtle reasoning, through the realization that “people see what they expect to see, and they tell themselves the stories they want to hear.” So she spins a tale of having been abducted by the Fair Folk, and having escaped by winning a wager – a story people are so willing to believe that “the story of my abduction to the Otherworld was like a tree that grew more robust with every fact-bearing limb that was lopped off.” So Maeve learns a great deal about controlling people, and about using that ability to rule her subjects wisely, and learns as well to “wave away details when it suited [her], or when it was a necessary kindness.” She truly does come into her own by the end of Deception’s Pawn, and if her strength and steadfastness are considerably more modern than in tune with the sort-of-medieval time in which her story is set, what of it? Both the first book about Maeve and the second are designed for 21st-century readers who wish to visit an alternative version of the past only briefly, and only in the company of an author who can make sure everything turns out just as they wish it would.