Book review: New series kicks off with Halloween adventure

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“Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders” (Aladdin, $16.99, ages 8-12) marks the beginning of a new fantasy series by best-selling children’s author Brandon Mull. The first book begins on Halloween, but it is more a tale of adventure and magic than horror and gore.

There comes a time in every kid’s life when Halloween becomes more than just dressing up and trick-or-treating. Instead, the holiday becomes a time to be fearless and adventurous. The feeling that arises from spooking your friends or bumping into your crush inside a haunted house is far more exciting than merely collecting free candy.

The adventure begins when Mr. Mull’s main character, sixth-grader Cole Randolph, suggests a trip to the neighborhood haunted house. The only thing he’s really worried about is whether it will be scary enough to impress his friends.

He’s also hoping to hang out with Jenna, a girl he may or may not have a secret crush on. Cole thinks she’s the prettiest girl in school. She’s a friend too, though, so he isn’t really sure what he feels yet. The night is full of possibilities.

The haunted house has a reputation of being “Hollywood effects” scary. But it soon becomes clear that there is something extremely wrong with this house and the people running it.

Before he can do anything but hide, Cole watches from under a fallen curtain as his friends are kidnapped and taken down a mysterious trapdoor. In a moment of bravery, he decides to jump in after them and ends up falling down into a strange world called the Outskirts.

Mr. Mull has created the Outskirts to be a bizarre, in-between world, much like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. However it’s also dangerous — very, very dangerous.

Magic exists in the Outskirts, but not everyone is lucky enough to have powers. Once you have been to the Outskirts, even if you manage to escape, you’re bound to always return.

There are five kingdoms in the Outskirts, all with different types of danger and curiosities. Certain kingdoms are dreamlike, others filled with harsh realities. And thanks to the evil High King, slavery is legal. Once you are marked as a slave, it’s almost impossible to become free again.

Upon arrival, Cole realizes that all of his friends have been sold into slavery. He feels horribly responsible for getting them all into this mess.

Cole believes he owes it to his friends to do whatever it takes to free them so they can all get back to their families. But things get off to a rough start as his rescue attempt quickly fails.

Even worse, he ends up getting captured and marked as a slave, too. Heroic but foolish, his rebellious actions give his captors  reason to separate him from his friends by selling him to the Sky Raiders. Slaves who are bought by Sky Raiders usually have a life expectancy of two weeks.

With the Sky Raiders, Cole is taken to the Brink, a perilous place where he faces death every day. He also meets Mira, a mysterious character with her own set of problems.

Cole begins to accept that saving his friends and getting them all back home could take a lot longer than he had imagined, but he’s determined to find a way. He might not be fearless, but he continues to keep his spirits up and proves to be very brave.

Middle grade readers will find it easy to fall into this strange world Mr. Mull has built. Castles made of clouds, an edible forest and what just might be the edge of the world itself are all things to look forward to in “Sky Raiders.”

While the topic of kidnapped and enslaved children may seem too scary for even the most mature readers, the author keeps the tone light, with enough fun and imagination in his story to remind everyone that this is, after all, a tale of fantasy, adventure, and magic.

“Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders,” is a great opening to a series that will leave readers wanting more with each book. Will Cole ever find his friends and see Jenna again? Luckily, book two is already on its way — it’s set to be released in October 2014.

Mary E. Seitz is children’s library assistant at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Sheraden.


Mary E. Seitz is children’s library assistant at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Sheraden.

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