Book Review: Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle
Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle
Schwartz & Wade Books
ARC from BookExpo
Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle absolutely charmed me from the start. I liked it for any number of reasons: a well-constructed fantasy, with just enough spookiness and strangeness to give a few delicious chills. It’s built around a well-constructed and interesting mythology: ravens have their own society, and tell riddles as both a matter of community and a matter of survival. The kids driving the plot are well-constructed, and if they and their various grownup figures are a touch on the eccentric side, they’re believably so. Plus, it’s set in Brooklyn, and does a good job of capturing a brownstone neighborhood full of kids and smallish shops.
And did I mention the riddles and puzzles? The mythology that the book sets up is that ravens love riddles of all kinds, and laugh croaky raven laughs at riddles and wordplay. Owls are more fond of puns. And certain ravens and people can communicate… Gabriel, a young boy being raised by his Aunt Jaz, collects riddles of all kinds. He’s being raised by his aunt, because his parents disappeared under Mysterious and Menacing Circumstances, in a way that has to do with how the human and raven worlds intersect, and with magic, mythology, and of course puzzles. Together with his riddle-loving new friend Abby, the young violin prodigy Pamela, Gabriel must find a way to unlock the ultimate puzzle, what happened when his father disappeared. Gabriel and his friends need to decide whether to trust the school bully, Somes, and a local shopkeeper who may or may not be trustworthy. There’s also an excellent literary reference in one of the key puzzles. I won’t spoil it for potential readers though. Throughout, Hagen’s prose makes it easy to visualize the characters and settings– from Abby’s mismatched bright outfits to the corridors of Gabriel’s house or the underground explorations that are part of their quest.
While very few books will ever come close to The Westing Game, one of my all-time favorites, I can see and appreciate some of the same elements here. Kids working together to solve puzzles. The puzzles themselves, which seem right about on target for the book’s middle-grade audience. (I can admit a few of the riddles stumped me on the first try!) Also, as mentioned above- some of the villains and obstacles getting in the way of Gabriel’s quest are well-characterized. Neither straightforward big-bads nor mawkish forced sympathy. Good stuff, throughout. Highly recommended as a middle grade book with enough going on to grab an older reader (including one, ahem, a decade or two past her middle grade years.) I don’t think there are plans for a sequel or series, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more in this world, and I’d definitely like to see where Hagen’s imagination heads next.