Category Archives: MG Fantasy

Middle-Grade Fantasy

Licia Troisi, Nihal of the Land of the Wind

There is a certain kind of story, like the first Harry Potter book (and NOT like the later books in that same series), that may work very well for preteens or very young teens, but which absolutely get on my nerves. They’re what I call self-insertion fantasies, and the whole point seems to be to give the reader the chance to fantasize about being someone special. The story is almost all action, with very little internal character development, and the language, too, tends to be very simple. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of the reader’s total self-identification with the protagonist.

This starts out as that kind of story. The protagonist, Nihal, is very special. Her appearance is distinctive; she loves to fight, and she is extraordinarily talented as a fighter. When a fifteen year old girl learns fighting so quickly and intuitively that she is able to beat ten well-trained fully grown warriors, one after the other, we’re definitely in wish-fulfillment territory. The adventures she has are a progression that might appeal greatly to readers who just want a character to identify with and lots of adventures to see that character perform in.

Then there’s a twist. I won’t spoil it, but it’s very appropriate if the intended readers are pre-teens or early teens, and it takes the book out of wish-fulfillment territory and into coming-of-age territory.

I can’t recommend this book to well-read fantasy readers, because neither the world-building or the character and her journey really stand out. But I think it might be a very wonderful first fantasy for a certain kind of young reader, which may account for its best-seller status in Italy, its original country of publication.

Note: I got a copy of this book for free at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the publisher.

The Brightstone Saga, by Paul B. Thompson

Book I: The Brightworking, ISBN 978-1-4644-0169-5, 160 pages.
Book II: The Fortune-Teller, ISBN 978-1-4644-0265-4, 160 pages.
Book III: The Battle for the Brightstone, ISBN 978-1-4644-0267-8, 176 pages.

The boy Mikal is ‘gleaned’ by the magician’s guild, and brought to their guild-house far from his home. There he makes friends with a girl named Lyra, and becomes apprentice to the magician Harlano.

Unfortunately, Harlano is up to no good, and Mikal and Lyra have to work together to survive. They escape the ruin of the guild-house, carrying a talking head — far more important and powerful than they initially realize — and try to make a new life.

But Harlano is not done with them. He wants the talking head back. He wants to destroy the Brightstone, the source of all magic, and if Mikal and Lyra don’t find a way to stop him, maybe he will end the world as they know it.

This is a middle-grade fantasy. Each volume is slim, and the style and action are very much suited to a middle-grade audience. For an adult reader, this sometimes has its disadvantages. The world just — happens. Bad things just — happen. Sometimes, unexpected good things — happen. The kids take everything in stride. But that’s probably true to the way a middle-grade reader experiences the world. Kids in an adult world find that things — happen — to them, and they have to deal.

There’s a lot here for a reader to love. The action is nonstop. The characters are lively and determined. The adventures are presented pretty vividly.

All in all, if you have a middle-grade reader looking for a fun fantasy read, these books are a good choice for a gift. It’ll be an easy read, and I think most middle-grade readers, especially boys, will find themselves really identifying with Mikal’s struggles.

I received free copies of these books at Book Expo America, including an advance review copy of The Battle for the Brightstone. I have no other connection with the author or the publisher.