The Story Thieves (Story Thieves, book one)
By James Riley
Expected publication January 20, 2015 by Aladdin
Owen's life is pretty unremarkable, though he does get to spend a lot of time at the library with his mom. His favorite books are the Kiel Gnomenfoot series and it's about to end. But everything changes for Owen when he spies his classmate Bethany climbing out of a book. Soon, he learns that her father was a fictional character, so she can climb into the pages of any book. Owen longs to be a hero, so he convinces her to visit one of the Kiel books. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong and soon, both their lives are in danger.
This is the first book by Riley that I've read. His previous series is extremely popular at my library, so when I spotted the digital galley of his new series available, I figured I'd give it a shot and see what the fuss was about.
It's not difficult to see why Riley's writing appeals to kids. It's fast-paced and action-packed while also being concise and to the point. The characters are realistic, everyday kids - I could imagine them being classmates of mine when I was younger. The story is interesting and full of twists and turns. It's also funny and clever, making fun of tropes (which kids might recognize) and full of literary references. It's also thought-provoking, as the main characters begin to question what the difference is between reality and fiction.
Like I said, the writing here is very kid-friendly. It reminded me of Rick Riordan except not as tiresome (I'm a bit worn out on Riordan at the moment). It grabs you from sentence one and compels you to keep turning the pages as swiftly as you can. The narrative switches back and forth between Bethany and Owen who, during the course of their hijinks, get separated and embark on distinct crazy adventures. It works really well and never feels like "meanwhile, over here in this other plot line..." - the switching back and forth seems natural. As much as I can be a fan of luscious, elaborate prose, there is also something to be said for concise, clear prose that gets the story across. Riley manages to keep his writing crisp and clean without being boring.
The characters are delightful - like I said, they're very realistic (despite Bethany being half-fictional, or however she'd be defined). I related much more to Bethany - she has this awesome power, but it's also overwhelming because she has no one to help her understand how best to use it. So, she's figured out her own set of rules and is very careful to follow them. Of course, Owen comes along and brazenly ignores her rules. I completely understood Bethany's frustration and anxiety over Owen's actions. I liked that both of the characters needed a little bit of the other's sensibilities in order to complete their journeys.
The ending is perfect and sets up a sequel quite nicely. I'll definitely be looking forward to it - this was a fun, quick, and exciting read. Riley's fans won't be disappointed!
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.