Review of the Day: Valley of the Wolves
I become inordinately happy whenever I have a chance to discover a new children's book title from a foreign land. The dearth of translated children's books available in the current American market is shameful, to say the least. I've had the pleasure of reading German and Indian and British titles galore. One country I did not enjoy until now, however, was Spain. Now that problem has been solved. Though it reeks of Tolkein influences through and through, "The Valley of the Wolves" is a rather joyous and exciting book ready to be enjoyed by hoards of fantasy-loving kiddies.
Dana didn't realize right off the bat that she was the only one who could see Kai. Honestly, it didn't make sense. Ever since she was six-years-old Dana and Kai have been best friends. He's just a normal blond kid who helps her out with her chores and plays games with her. It's with great shock that Dana realizes that to everyone else, Kai is her "imaginary friend". None of this seems important, however, until the day the stranger on the horse saw her. The stranger turns out to be a rather important mage and before she knows what's happening, Dana and Kai are going to the man's tower home. There, Dana becomes an apprentice in magic and her powers grow. Yet when she starts seeing more mysterious visions and finds a mystery at the heart of her home, Dana must decide what to trust and what to avoid if she wants to stay alive.
Garcia has taken the old "imaginary friend" idea and given it a particularly nice spin. Kai as early friend and, later, object of real affection manages to conceal his background so well that even the canniest of readers will probably fail to figure out what he is. In hindsight it seems obvious, but reading the book you'll be honestly baffled. Garcia is magnificent with her characters as well. There's a bad guy in this book, sure, but the villain isn't all twirling of the moustaches and evil laughs. There's a depth to each person we meet, especially poor intangible Kai. Plus, there's a connection to the characters that comes across as especially alluring. No one can doubt the depth of feeling Kai and Dana feel for one another. The ending of the book also invoked a little of that old, "The Amber Spyglass" by Philip Pullman, as well.
Ah, but it is incredibly difficult to read a book these days with elves and dwarves in it without wanting to retch. Are we so lacking in creativity that we must continually turn to elves and dwarfs when we want something pseudo-magical? "Eragon" did it. "The Spiderwick Chronicles" did it. Now "The Valley of the Wolves" has done it. To Garcia's credit, that's where her reliance on Tolkein begins and ends. Honestly, the dwarf and elf in this story could have easily been human and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference to the tale.
As for her storytelling, Garcia keeps the action going at a steady clip. Exciting scenes are never bogged down in useless details. The book trips lightly over five or six years without feeling lost or, for that matter, necessary. All in all, this is a more than worthy fantasy addition that may well go unnoticed for all its charms. I'm also especially fond of the 3-D effect the cover has if you stare at it in just the right way. Definitely a rather nice take on the old a-child-learns-magic genre, currently so popular. Even reluctant readers should enjoy it.