John and Carole E. Barrowman – Bone Quill

barrowman-bonequillA faceless stranger is close to finding the key that opens Hollow Earth: a supernatural place that holds all the monsters ever imagined.
Twins Matt and Emily Calder have special powers – they can bring art to life. But can they find their missing mother and protect the key – an ancient bone quill – even if it means travelling back through time? Then Matt takes a fateful decision, one that forces him to make a terrible choice.

Save his family? Or save the world?

Last week I reviewed the first book in the Hollow Earth series, which I really enjoyed. The second book, Bone Quill, was just as big a treat as the first book was, perhaps even more so as some of the elements I enjoyed in the first book had a larger role in this book and we got to see more of the adults and their history. As this is book two in a series and this book starts where the previous book leaves off and deals with the fall out of that earlier book, it is impossible to discuss Bone Quill without giving spoilers for Hollow Earth. If you want to remain unspoiled it would be wisest to not read any further.

The biggest new element in the story is Em and Matt’s discovery that they cannot just animate themselves into a painting, they can actually time travel using the paintings. This is quite a cool application of Animare powers I’d never had thought of in the last book. Imagine all the possibilities of such an ability! Of course, Em, Matt, and Zach do and they have quite the adventure. Bored out of their minds after having been confined to the Abbey grounds after the events in the last books, Matt decides to animate himself into a painting of Victorian London to alleviate his boredom, something expressly forbidden by his grandfather and Simon. I loved the short adventure the kids had in the Victorian age, which focused on the awful living conditions of the poor and on the dangers of Victorian society for a deaf boy, but I did have some trouble with Matt’s all but black-mailing Em and Zach into accompanying him. It’s something he does repeatedly and mostly without any lasting repercussions and I just wish Em and Zach would just stand up to him for once as he can be a bit of a bully.

The twins’ time travelling ability also creates a far closer connection to the storyline set in the Middle Ages. I enjoyed the fact that we learned more about what happened to Solon and the larger role he has to play in this book. The closer interaction also meant we get more background on the history of the Hollow Earth and also on the Calder family background. Their connection to Era Mina turns out to go far further back than I’d expected. The mythology of the world is developed further as well and I really enjoyed learning the full background to the myth of the peryton. However, it does highlight in a rather direct way the tendency of the narrative to lean towards a black and white delineation between good and evil. You have the beneficent creatures such as the peryton and the good Animare and Guardians – Brother Renard, the Abbot, Grandpa Renard, and Simon to name a few – and the evil creatures, such as the Grendel, the black peryton, and the hell hounds and the evil-intentioned Animare and Guardians, such as the twins’ father, several of the members of the Council of Guardians, some of the medieval monks and Mara. There are only a few grey characters in the story, even if those include our protagonists, especially Matt.

As in Hollow Earth, my main frustration was that the twins, mainly Matt, make decisions and take actions that were rather infuriating. In some ways their choices are understandable, but at the same time they are quite hair-tearingly frustrating and rather dumb. But as I said in my Hollow Earth review that has to be my parent brain thinking, because I know at that age I wouldn’t have blinked at such behaviour. The addition of the character of Carik, a Viking girl who stowed away as a warrior on the raiders’ ship was a welcome one to the medieval timeline. She’s different and brave and quite unexpected. Another intriguing addition was Duncan Fox. The founder of the original (non-sinister) Hollow Earth Society makes an appearance and does so in grand style. It does have to be said that the Barrowmans aren’t afraid to shock young readers by killing off characters; blood flows and lives are lost in this book and show that where there is struggle there will be consequences.

Bone Quill, like Hollow Earth, was a compelling adventure. However, as it does have somewhat of a cliff hanger ending with no real resolution, it doesn’t stand alone at all. Of course this is only the second in a series of books, so I’ll just have to be patient until the next book is released. In many ways the Hollow Earth series reminds me of the books I loved when I was of middle grade age and I know that eleven-year-old me would have adored this series. And I’m sure that the middle-graders of today will love it as well.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.