Standalone, Alternate Universe Books, 2013, 128 pgs.
Corgis like Pippin may look like ordinary dogs, but looks can be deceiving. Even though they may live with us humans, every corgi on this earth is actually a servant and steed of the fairies. When Pippin’s fairy, Aliiana gets an urgent message from her Prince saying that the Ruseol Gem, the source of all good magic in the world, has been stolen, they immediately rush to help. Aliiana and Pippin, along with the others in a specially chosen group, must find the Gem, save magic, and have the adventure of a lifetime in the process!
I really do hate trying to review books aimed at a very young audience: the sort of thing you couldn’t even call mid grade so much as early reader. To be frank, they always bore me badly. Always feel like something of a waste of time, with their simple characters, simple plots, and simple sentences.
And that’s perfectly fine; it’s what they’re built to do.
I’m an adult that’s loved books my entire life, and I like to think I generally have this whole “reading” thing down by this point. Whether it’s plot or prose style I want something that surprises me, at least a little. By contrast, a young reader that’s just starting to get beyond picture books on their own is going to have very different needs. The simplicity of such books is as much as necessity for them as it is a frustration for me.
I can’t pretend, though, that I ever really enjoy them without some sort of nostalgia backing that enjoyment. Anything aimed at eight-year-olds that I didn’t read when I was eight is probably going to fall flat for me, and by design. This was exactly the problem I had with Lost Time and The Liberation of Gabriel King.
And this time I don’t even have the excuse of being suckered by a YA-looking cover. The Corgi Chronicles are very clearly marked “Ages 6-12.” I’m reading this for one reason, and one reason alone: Boyfriend bought it for me. He has a corgi, loves her to a sort of ridiculous extent, and is weak to all corgi-based things as a result.
To be fair, she is adorable.
So, here we are, though. I came in knowing this wasn’t for me, and that its not being for me is a feature instead of a bug. I guess the only thing to do is note that the age label here is entirely justified and then try to be as fair as I can.
So, okay. I know some other people here have to remember those old Rankin Bass Lord of the Rings cartoons. The ones where everything is just slightly sillier, and easier, and less epic? But it’s okay because it works as a toned down introduction for kids? This book reminds me of nothing so much as those old cartoons. This is a fantasy quest and a fairyland story, stripped of a lot of its tension and cutesified for the youngin’s.
And I may prefer my fairyland with a little more inhuman creepiness and less light and goodness. I may like my villain to have more backstory than sheer, entitled brattiness. I may want to see challenges that the heroes can’t work their way out of easily. But I can’t pretend I don’t understand why this book is written that way.
Nor is the way its written actually all that bad, because as much as my overwhelming thought here is “well I guess that was cute,” this is doing some good things. I do like the idea of making a toned down Fellowship of the Ring, and this hits all of the classic fantasy standards. The magical mcguffin, the dark lord, and the motley band of allies that the party picks up as it moves along the quest are all there. This book does really do well to introduce the basics of the genre.
And it’s fairly decently built, too. If the prose is simplistic, at least it’s not insultingly so. We’re not at “See Spot Run” levels here; this does contain sentences willing to use clauses. The plot is likewise simple, but there’s very little fluff. For the most part, it keeps itself moving. Even my complaints about the challenges the heroes face being too easy can be handwaved as the author saving her big moments for the end, because things do pick up there.
And our talking corgi hero may not be exceptionally deep, but he is fun and brave. He’s probably more goofy than I would like, but even then that might be less “cutesified” and more “being a dog.” The goofiness sort of fits.
Actually, everything about this that’s a little goofy comes in a way that sort of fits. Cliché villain trying to corrupt all magic? Magical items with silly names? Ridiculously pure, beautiful elves? Like I said, there’s a definite Tolkien influence here. If it keeps the ridiculous bits and cuts the heartache, well, for kids.
Again, heed the age range, but I wasn’t slogging through this, which is more than I can say for most early reader books.
When I get right down to it, I only really have two criticisms that I think are fair.
The first has to do with the way the novel sometimes feels more like a guidebook than a story, which is the one exception to the plot’s generally keeping itself moving. Every now and then the author will go off on a little digression that’s clearly intended to teach the young audience something. When the characters are worrying for the fate of the Gem we’ll suddenly shift into a discussion of how to set up camp properly, or we’ll get a passage about the geological history of the area in the middle of a chase scene.
It’s not that the intent to teach is inappropriate in a children’s book, but when you’re writing action-adventure you need to be careful about integrating it so as not to interrupt to interrupt the flow of your narrative. This fails a little at that, and those were the only times I thought it dragged.
The second has to do with some of the characters. About half, mostly the talking animals and the villain, are memorable if kiddy. But then the humanoid magical characters all blend together in a sort of generic, heroic stoicism. I really don’t understand how or why this happened; all the rest of this is very children’s show anyway, so why not make them big and memorable too? Is it some misplaced attempt at seriousness?
If it is, it’s not borne out by anything else in the book, from the plotting, to the world building, to the other characters. I wish Madsen would have just bitten the bullet and given these people some personality, even if it was ridiculous and one-note.
That said, if you do find yourself looking for books for children, I would recommend this. I enjoyed it far better than most early reader, and can see kids really liking it. It’s adorable and fun, very geared toward that age range, and will probably make the people it’s intended for very happy.