Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review #3: Nightshade City

This week's book review is Hilary Wagner's awesome middle grade novel, Nightshade City.  This is a true animal fantasy story where the talking animals are not just side characters, but take center stage as the main feature.

Here's the summary blurb from Wagner's website:

Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect. Following the Bloody Coup, the once peaceful democracy has become a dictatorship, ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery.

Three young orphan rats--brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover--join forces with Billycan's archenemy, Juniper, and his maverick band of rebel rats as they plot to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city--Nightshade City. This impossible-to-put-down fantasy explores timeless themes of freedom, forgiveness, the bonds of family, and the power of love.

It's hard to avoid comparing any animal fantasy about rodents to Brian Jacques' works.  (He did sort of "write the book" on the genre.  Hee hee!)  Two hallmark characteristics of Jacques' books are their warm characters and vivid settings.  Wagner most certainly exemplifies both.  Although the majority of the characters in Nightshade City are "icky" rats, that are about as repulsive as teddy bears.  The three protagonists, Vincent, Clover, and Juniper, are delightful--the kind of critters you'd want to invite into your house rather than chase out of it.  Their emotions and interactions are engaging, and I dare your heart not to melt when Vincent and Victor show some brotherly love.  I also never thought I'd find myself so enthralled with a cast of helpful worms!  (They terrified me more than rats did when I was little...)  Of course, the villains are duly villainous, but even they have their soft-spots, too, so it's hard to truly hate the baddies.  In addition, the setting of Nightshade City is just as colorful as the cast of characters.  Although the creepy, dark Catacombs are the complete opposite of Redwall Abbey, the titular Nightshade City is bright and inviting.  You feel right at home in the caverns and halls where rats toast with tiny tankards and champion freedom.  I promise the world of Nightshade City is one you'll want to revisit long after you turn the last page.  

Something interesting to note in Nightshade City is Wagner's use of Omniscient Third Person point of view.  Wagner executes this tricky POV quite well and in doing so, she gives each character their chance to shine in the intricate, epic storyline.  I think this POV ties in with her use of characterization above; by getting in everyone's head--from the heroic Vincent to the devious Billycan--you come to love them all.  If you're considering using Third Person point of view in your own story, you'll definitely want to check out Wagner's tactics.  

Nightshade City is a great book from both a reader's and a writer's perspective.  If you want to study good use of characterization, setting, and POV, then this book is definitely for you.  If you love a great story full of suspense, intrigue and surprises, then you should pick it up, too.  And if you love anything by Brian Jacques (like me), then this book is 100% for you!  I enjoyed my time with these delightful rats and can't wait until October when the sequel, The White Assassin, comes out.  (With a title like that, book two is sure to be sweet!)

You can check out Wagner's website at:

And if you pick up Nightshade City, let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think. :)

Note: The Nightshade City summary and cover art are both from Wagner's website.

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