The Vengekeep Prophecies (Vengekeep Prophecies, book one)
By Brian Farrey, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Published 2012 by HarperCollins
Jaxter comes from a long line of thieves and that suits him just fine. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have inherited any thieving talents. Instead, Jaxter's strength lies in his meticulous research of magic and using it to help his family out of sticky situations. This time, however, the Grimjinx family might be in over their head. When the prophecies on a tapestry they forged begin coming true, it's up to Jax to find a way to save Vengekeep.
This book caught my eye when it was released because it sounded great and it's illustrated by Brett Helquist (I just love his style; what can I say?). It got great reviews and just sounded like a fun read. I finally picked it up over the summer and I'm pleased to say that it was everything I hoped for.
What kid (what person, really) doesn't love reading about a misfit? I feel like that's a cornerstone of many great fantasy novels - the kid who doesn't quite fit. Jaxter is that kid. He loves his family and they love him, but there's no denying that he's different from them. He doesn't share their talents for thievery and deception but does that stop him from trying? Of course not. And, of course, when things get really troublesome for the Grimjinx family, it's up to Jaxter to find a solution. It feels like one of the oldest stories in the book and yet Farrey keeps it entertaining and unique. I love that Jaxter is a scholar and that his family finds his talents valuable, despite how different they are from the Grimjinx tradition.
I also love that Jaxter is given a traveling companion for his journey and she's a great character in her own right. Callie is smart and clever and stubborn. She's determined and I think she makes a great friend for Jax. The dynamic between the two is really fun and sweet. As a whole, actually, I think Farrey has created a great cast of characters. They are almost all completely unreliable but they have a lot of heart and I really enjoyed spending time with them.
Farrey also does a great job with the pacing. The book is almost 400 pages long, but those pages fly by in a mix of action, adventure, and humor. The snappy dialogue and the hijinks of Jax and his family keep you turning the pages as quickly as you can to see what will happen next. I really like that Farrey has taken another fantasy trope - the prophecy - and done something new and interesting with it here. It makes for a really fun read.
Overall, this is an absolute gem of a middle-grade read. I highly recommend this to fantasy fans, and those looking for something that will make them laugh. I imagine this would be a great read-aloud as well, with all its adventure and fun vocabulary.