Jake and I finaly disagree about a book! I was super-excited when I realized this was happening as we texted our initial reactions to each other. I thought it would be a super exciting knock out debate, but it was really just a difference of opinion, nothing too exciting. Anyways, here are the reviews.
Jake’s Review: I was super excited about reading The Grey King, but I have rarely felt such deflation since reading Twilight. I loved The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, the 1985 Newbery winner, so I was eager to pick up another fantasy Newbery-winning novel. I understand that this is the fourth of a series of five, and that means that some things were going to be unclear since I hadn’t read the previous three, but I still could not overlook what I thought were glaring inconsistencies and major flaws.
Overall, this story felt like a lazy version of more well-told fantasy tales, such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. In a nutshell: where Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings give the reader an explanation for why their worlds work the way they do (magic-guiding rules, why the villain doesn’t just attack at certain times, the overall ramifications of each person’s and place’s powers), The Grey King seems to expect the reader to take these things for granted. Everything is very vague. It was more like the plot of a video game, where I’m less inclined to care about the storyline and more about the gameplay. At one point, our main character Will is supposed to find some obscure harp in some obscure mountain by answering three very obscure riddles from three obscure dudes in obscure hoods, and then there’s the part where the Grey King (is he a mist, mountain, wind, or tangible villain? I don’t know) appears as some sort of smoke monster (maybe that’s where Lost got it) and somehow has the power to make Will’s obscure harp heavy. Sometimes, it seems Will can feel the Grey King’s presence, and other times he can’t. In well-told fantasy stories, like Harry Potter, we know why, when, and how Harry can sense Voldemorte, and Rowling offers such explanations for nearly every element of her world. I could go on and on. Where the best writers make their fictional realms seem real, this one never soars past fictional, because I don’t even think the writer ever gave much thought to the ramifications of hers. I’m not saying everyone has to pull a “Tolkien” and write several appendices about their world, but it would sure help if Cooper had given some thought to the way hers worked so that everything didn’t seem like an element from a Zelda video game.
More from the nutshell: characters were so flat, I didn’t care about any of them. The story consisted more detail about rocks and “bracken” than it did the characters, and more often it was whole lot of detail about a whole lot of nothing.
Benji and I had tossed around the idea of us making this review an email debate, and you’ll soon see why: Benji liked it a lot. So this should at least make for a good review blog. There’s a lot more I’d like to say about this book, but I’ll turn it over to my esteemed colleague. I give it a half pie.
Benji’s Review: Half a Pie! Really?! Half a pie!? I don’t even think Jake gave The Story of Mankind a score that low. I could be mistaken about that, but really? Half a pie? I disagree with Jake’s entire review. Yeah, pretty much all of it. I did read the first book in the series Over Sea Under Stone years ago, but I haven’t read books two or three. I think that almost all of Jake’s problems with Grey King have to do with this being the 4th book. Of course the characters are going to come across as flat. They’ve already been developed in the other books. Of course the rules of the magic are going to seem vague and unexplained. They’ve already been explained in the previous books. It seems to me that authors taking the time to reintroduce characters and reexplain the plot and the conventions (magic and things like that) is a fairly new thing. If you were reading the 4th book in a series, an author used to just assume that you had already read the other three. It doesn’t really work that that these days.
Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. I love Wales as a setting. One of my favorite novels set in Wales,A String in the Harp won a Newbery Honor the year after Grey King won the gold. It seems like there was a fascination with Wales and its tales and folklore going on in the 70’s, and I’m totally into that. I thought Grey King was exciting. I love the Arthurian tie-ins, and I thought the Grey King’s foxes were pretty cool.
Like Jake said, we were going to make this a long debate, but really the only reason why we didn’t is because we’re lazy. While we were reading the book, it seemed like a great idea, but after we finished, we were ready to move on to the next book.
I give this one 4 Newbery pies.