Scoop of the e-e-evening: Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse

I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel whose characters instantly conjured up an illustrator. But the moment I met Kaleb Nation’s Wilomas family, my mind screamed, Quentin Blake! Which, if you’ve read any Dahl, tells you a lot about Bran Hambric. It’s Matilda meets Harry Potter.

With gnomes.

In a bustling metropolis where magic is outlawed, a six-year-old child is found inside a locked bank vault. A scrap of paper reveals his name: Bran Hambric. The child remembers nothing of his life before the vault. Only magic could have done this. But why would any mage risk breaking the law to place a child in a bank vault?

Eight years later the City of Dunce has forgotten about Bran. Even his foster parents don't seem to know he exists. But there are those who have been watching, biding their time, waiting to strike, people who know where Bran came from and why he was sent away. And they will do anything to get Bran back, dead or alive…

There is plenty for middle grade readers to enjoy in this story. Nation relies on action to move events forward, and his scenery is well-painted. His characters are vivid, if not exaggerated, as mentioned. His prose is lively, dusted with words like “gluttonizing.”

But Bran Hambric is also a debut novel, begun at age fourteen. There’s room to grow. At times, Nation’s prose was redundant: “It was a dark, icy prison, his body racing downward and upward and in all directions at once. Fear crawled through him. He felt eyes upon him, coming from all directions” or overly dramatic: “...the dream cleared itself from his head like the last echoes of a dying man’s voice.”

However, the novel’s pacing and story arc, though not 100% brawn, kept me turning pages. Every now and then, serious scenes and violent action jarred against Nation’s Dahl-like style, but I don’t think the impact would bother a middle grade audience. In fact, I think they’d enjoy the variety.

The Farfield Curse’s ending leaves plenty of room for the projected five sequels. It will be interesting to watch Nation’s talent develop over the next few years. He’s off to a good start.

ARC courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Publication September 2009

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