Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book of the Week: GIDEON'S SPEAR by Darby Karchut
First Paragraph(s): Screaming bored out of his mind, thirteen-year-old Finn MacCullen blew a long sigh as he wandered around the clearing in the woods. The late-afternoon rays of the summer sun lit the trees surrounding him, tinting the trunks of the Ponderosa pines with the same shade of bronze as that of the large knife, almost the length of his forearm, he held in one hand. With a snap of his wrist, he flipped it into the air and caught it by the handle.
Holding the weapon level with his eyes, he tilted it to and fro, trying to view his reflection. For just a moment, he caught a flash of blue eyes in a boyish face dusted with freckles, and a mop of hair the same flaming color as the blade. Adjusting the angle downward, he grinned as he was further rewarded with a glimpse of a twisted rope of gold, as thick as the Knight Mac Roth's thumb, that encircled his throat just above the collar of his T-shirt. "You are, Finnegan MacCullen," he murmured to himself, adjusting the torc so that the twin knobs on each end of the neckpiece were dead center under his Adam's apple, "one kickbutt warrior."
Gravel crunched behind him.
He whirled around. "Oh, crap." His heart rammed against the roof of his mouth at the sight of his worst nightmare.

Hello there, Esteemed Reader! Are you ready for St. Patrick's Day? In the past, I've spent the day at the bar (ahh, writer friends), but this year I'll likely be home reading a book with a baby on my chest drinking not so much as a green beer (I might do green tea). But you'll note from the new Irish background that I'm in the spirit, helped greatly by our old friend Darby Karchut's newest Gideon's Spear, the sequel to Finn Finnegan

You may note that the word count for All Right Now has slowed a bit, but I assure you this is because I've decided to prepare another horror story for you to be released in the next two months rather than waiting until October. For more details, I was interviewed yesterday at Jessica Lawson's extraordinary blog, Falling Leaflets, where I discuss character development in depth (if you're into that kinda thing, and if you're here, you might be).

Bad Ninja! My apologies, Esteemed Reader. How rude of me to discuss myself in a post about someone else's book. This space should be dedicated to Darby Karchut and an overview of her work, not a cheap ad for yours truly. I apologize. Won't happen again. 

Let's look at Gideon's Spear, available at fine retailers everywhere. Here is my favorite passage from Gideon's Spear written by Darby Karchut:

“Finn Finnegan is a Fine Folio of Fantastic Fiction!” — Middle Grade Ninja

Isn't that a--oh for crying out loud, I've done it again! I did everything I could to discuss this week's book and I ended up talking about me. That's because Gideon's Spear is the first book I'm aware of to feature a blurb from me, though any author who's book I've reviewed is welcome to blurb me anywhere they like. You may remember in my review of Finn Finegan I joked that the good people of Spencer Hill Press were welcome to use my blurb. I also offered this gem: 

Finn Finnegan is a good time read and you're going to enjoy yourself. This St. Patrick's Day, don't just get pass-out drunk. Read Finn Finnegan while-st you drink, then pass out

Well, the blurb Spencer Hill Press chose is good too and I'm thrilled with it. Gideon's Spear sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf as I bought an actual paper copy as a keepsake (though I actually read most of it on Kindle). And Darby Karchut was kind enough to blurb my book (all ways lead back to the ninja). I consider her a friend. So I think we can dispense with the review and spend the remainder of this post coming up with potential blurbs for the upcoming three-quel, The Hound at the Gate.

How about this: "Gideon's Spear through my heart and Darby Karchut's to blame. She gives writing middle grade Irish fantasy a good name." Or the trite: "Gideon's Spear is Good Stuff." Or the misleading: "I was so shocked when Finn died at the end!" Or the bizarre: "In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, having watched everyone you ever knew or loved burn to a cinder, as you sit waiting for the radiation sickness to put you out and at last take your pain away, those hours will be made less agonizing by reading Darby Karchut's Gideon's Spear."

All right, honest and for true, let's talk about this book. Honest and for true, I liked Gideon's Spear even better than Finn Finnegan, though newcomers to the series would be better off starting with that book. The origin and introduction of our characters out of the way, Karchut is able to spend book two deepening the characters and their relationships, thickening the plot, and raising the stakes. Also, there's even more action this time around, which makes the pages fly by in no time. 

Karchut expertly reminds return readers and catches up new readers by giving us a casual conversation in chapter one between our heroes that works nicely as a "last time on Finn Finnegan" narration:

“But how can I learn anything if all I do is follow you around?” 
Gideon’s face darkened. “Arguing with me is as dangerous as hunting the Amandán.” 
“But I’ve fought them before.” Finn’s voice cracked in frustration. “I know—” 
“You know less than you think. A few skirmishes with the goblins do not make you ready to hunt alone.” 
“Why won’t you let me at least try?” 
“Because you’re not ready!” Finn scowled. “It’s because of the whole Spear thing, isn’t it?” 
“Oh, aye, that’s it,” Gideon said, heavy on the sarcasm. “Discovering that my apprentice of less than two months is none other than the legendary Spear of the Tuatha De Danaan has made me decide to treat you differently from now on.” 
“It has?” Finn’s heart sank. I’m sick of always being different. I just want to be a Knight. Like Gideon and Mac Roth
“No, you dolt.” Gideon reached out and cuffed him lightly on the side of the head.

What I like about that passage is not just the brevity of the exposition, but the way Karchut shows us the nature of Gideon and Finn's relationship (as well as explaining the title). Last time around, I compared Gideon to Hagrid from that other wonderful series of children's books you may have heard of. But that's not accurate. Gideon is a much more central figure than Hagrid and a large amount of this book is devoted to his and Finn's mentor/apprentice/surrogate father/son relationship and I think it's fair to say that relationship is the core of this series. Gideon even writes his own journal entries as does Finn, and Hagrid never got nearly this amount of screen time. 

But lest we forget, our heroes are in the middle of an ongoing war, naturally. Karchut catches us up on that score early on by having the Amandán conveniently attack with more exposition than weapons. Note Gideon taking center stage with no Finn in sight:

“Too bad yer whelp turned tail and ran,” spoke another one. “I likes me Fey young and fresh.” 
“I just likes mine dead,” a deep voice growled. “The day will come when ye high and mighty—” it stopped to spit out the name “—Tuatha De Danaan will be nothing but a pile of leftovers. And Eire will be ours once more.” 
“Not that old grievance again,” Gideon said, tedium in his tone. “You think the death of all Tuatha De Danaan will return the Green Isle to the likes of you?” He raised his chin. “Ireland will never be yours again. The Goddess Danu gave it to us to hold.” 
“We hads it first,” the first goblin hissed. “We be the true heirs of Eire. Us the Bog-born, not the feeble offspring of some upstart goddess.” 
Gideon curled his lip. “Yet here you are. In Colorado. Not Ireland.” 
“We could says the same thing about ye Tuatha De Danaan—” 
“Bah,” the second Amandán interrupted. “Too much talking, not enough killing. Let’s get him, mates.” The pack closed ranks.

As with Finn Finnegan, the language gets a little strong for younger readers, but is perfect for upper middle grade readers who will chuckle at "assengai" just as surely his new African neighbors and Finn do. Comparisons to Harry Potter like the one I made are inevitable, but truth be told this book reminded me more of the Lord of the Rings and a little of Duck Tales.

There are goblin battles galore, but Gideon and Finn can't just fight them all day. They've got to come up against a heavy hitter sooner or later. Enter Iona. She's a witch, though she prefers the term "enchantress," and she and Gideon have an interesting history that goes back centuries, as such feuds do when dealing with fantasy characters. Gideon has reason to believe Iona was indirectly responsible for the death of his son, which is a great touch. Iona wants to get her claws on Gideon's new son, which is what editors mean when they tell us to "raise the stakes." Gideon and Iona are gonna rumble and this time it's personal, which is as it should be, or no one's going to care enough to read book three.

Gideon's Spear surpasses the original and it's a great read to be enjoyed by younger readers and adults, especially teachers like Darby Karchut, who will surely get a kick out of allusions such as these:

“Finnegan, wake,” he said softly, smiling to himself at the old joke. He nudged the bed with a knee, giving it a shake.

If you like action, adventure, and fun, and if you don't, you probably don't like books, but if you do like those things, Gideon's Spear is for you. This one comes highly recommended and with just one more book to go, now is the perfect time to join the series.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Gideon's Spear:

He looked down at Finn’s bandaged hands. His eyebrows asked the question. 

“And I’m assuming the O’Neills will be footing the bill for the festivities?” Mac Roth nodded in anticipation. “Ye know the O’Neills. They’re a proud family and enjoy sharing their wealth with the rest of us.” “You mean flaunting their wealth,” Gideon replied, then shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t want to show disrespect by not partaking in their generosity.” “Forever thinking of others, Lir.” “Aye, that I do. Excessive kindness has always been a fault of mine.”

Something about Iona made Finn’s skin want to crawl off his skeleton. And hide.

A faint drumming accompanied the voice, the thump of a bodhran, its rhythm as ancient as the first heartbeat of the world.

Icy silence frosted the inside of the cab.  

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.  


  1. Rob, as always, your review had me laughing my head off. I do so enjoy your quirky humor. Thanks for taking time in your crazy schedule to read and review my book. It was loads of fun to write.

    1. My schedule is crazy, but I've always got time for an Irish adventure. Your book reads like it was written by someone who enjoyed themselves, which leads to others enjoying themselves.

  2. DUCK TALES!! Ah, memories... Okay, that's not the only thing I got from this post~ Gideon's Spear sounds right up my alley, just like Finn Finnegan. Darby's a fellow Coloradan and I keep hoping to get to meet her in person. One of these days :) And I love the blurbs~ the second one (dealing with St. Patty's day and passing out) is my favorite, but like you said, the first one is darn good too :)

    1. Hi Jessica! Fellow Colorado author! I just read about your upcoming release and it sounds awesome! Congrats!

  3. Spencer Hill really should hire you to write their blurbs :) I'll have to look for these books since i haven't read them yet.

  4. Loved the first book! Finn is awesome. Darby is not so bad, herself. LOL YAY!

  5. In this sequel to Finn Finnegan, Karchut continues the growth of the young apprentice while giving us more insight of the master. In addition, there are deadly new enemies to keep the stakes high and the adventure rolling along. An enjoyable read if you are looking for a character with a lot of moxy and a story with a lot of action and adventure.

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Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.