4 out of 4 stars
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I'm not gonna lie, I have zero shame in admitting that YA fantasy is my favorite genre of books. I can't pinpoint why exactly, whether it's the kids that end up in situations most adults would cower from, the ease of reading or the adventures and mystery they stumble across, it can be so amazing when done well. Luckily, as you'll read in the following paragraphs, Mysteries of Brettenwood by David Blank definitely falls into the "awesome" camp of YA fantasy.
Erik is a preteen boy living in a small town called Candlewood, a settlement in a fictional new world (much like the colonization of the Americas, except with magic and crazy beasts and stuff!). Erik lives right at the edge of Brettenwood Forest, a mysterious, dark forest where an evil witch is said to live, and where none dare venture. Erik, however, has always felt curious about the forest, and one night he notices what seems like a giant wolf lurking near his house out his window. It isn't much later that an old woman comes out of the forest with some of these shadowy beasts, and when Erik tracks where they were looking the next morning he discovers a mysterious artifact - what seems like a glass carving of a mountain, but it's so cold that even through his shirt he can feel the chill. Stealing from her was as foolish as you might imagine, however, as she soon comes for it in his sleep and curses him as punishment. Erik must discover how to cure himself of a sickness that's rapidly turning him into a creature of darkness while stumbling into other trouble on the way!
Mysteries of Brettenwood definitely lives up to its name - aside from the initial mystery of the forest, mysteries abound everywhere. The level of descriptiveness walks that fine line of being intriguing and making you feel like you're there without giving useless information or becoming boring. In doing so, the book blends hope-crushing fear with a sense of adventure extremely well, and no one is ever safe. While the book has a few creepy scenes (like one that involved giant spiders!), there's no gore or real violence and the book is certainly fine for teenagers.
The cover of the book features a boy and a girl, and it's one of the coolest things the book does - while each of the three "parts" of the book begins with a few pages of setup that explain one of the main things in that part, the majority of the book is first person from Erik's point of view. The second part, however, switches to his friend Kristina's point of view, and the shift happens in a way that even feels slightly different to read. It's obvious it's the same author, and it's not the least bit disruptive, it's just enough to feel the shift back instinctively when it returns to Erik in part 3. Kristina isn't the typical "smart but weak" or "whiny brat" girl, either - while she does get scared, she's also often the one to push Erik or her cousins to toughen up and get through rough situations together. Being able to see Erik and Kristina interact with each other is really interesting because of this as well, Erik is quiet and withdrawn about his affliction and what's happening to him while Kristina just wants to know what's going on and help him through it.
Despite a fair number of grammatical errors, many of which occur close together, and a somewhat rough drop in pace between parts one and two of the book, I'd absolutely recommend Mysteries of Brettenwood to anyone who enjoys fantasy that isn't completely serious, and rate it 4 out of 4 stars without hesitation. The book had a good amount of humor that never once felt forced, and the descriptiveness, tense situations and exploration aspects were top notch. This was a page turner from the absolute beginning, and while it leaves itself open to the possibilities of a sequel it stands alone as well. In fact, there was a point in the last part of the book where I felt this might be a part one in a series, and for the first time in a long time I WANTED it to be!
Mysteries of Brettenwood
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