Call me sentimental, but with my son turning thirteen recently – and more than ready for the world of Young Adult novels – I made sure his last days immersed in Middle Grade fiction were spent within the Kingdom of Alban, with Gabe, Eddie, Gwyn and her band of feisty young heroines.
He might be ready to move on, but am I?
I always gift books to my children for birthdays and Christmas, and with my son’s thirteenth looming, I ordered a copy of The Book of Answers. We read its prequel, The Book of Secrets, together last year, and with his reading demographic changing, I just couldn’t leave this series unfinished. I wrapped the book in bright red paper, squirrelled it away in my luggage for the 14,000km journey from Perth to Spain, and counted down the days until he reached his big milestone. By happy coincidence, his birthday fell on the festival of Sant Jordi, in Barcelona. This is a unique Catalan festival, where the streets are awash with red and yellow striped bunting, and countless stalls selling books or roses everywhere we turned. La Rambla – the famous 1.2km pedestrian mall – was barely penetrable due to people buzzing around hundreds of book marquees. I couldn’t have planned a better bookish birthday experience if I tried!
For my son, The Book of Answers was a fun read, full of medieval concepts he was learning concurrently at school. For me, it was bitter-sweet. Moving on from the Middle Grade demographic into Young Adult is yet another sign that my son’s childhood is slowly ebbing away. In a way, reading this book was yet another exercise in letting go, but it was such a rewarding one. From beginning to end, so much action in this book brought back many happy memories, not only of shared reading time over the years, but also in our real life experiences that come straight from the pages of this book.
Picking up where The Book of Secrets left off, The Book of Answers opens with a sense of urgency; a race to deliver the ancient manuscript to Sir Lucien (an exiled advisor of the King, living in a secluded mountain fortress) before it falls into the wrong hands. Time is against Gabe, Eddie, Gwyn and the girls as Winterfest approaches – and with it, the certainty that Gwyn and Merry’s father will be hanged for a crime he did not commit. Eddie’s father, the King, is becoming increasingly ill, diminishing the likelihood that Eddie will regain his crown.
However, Gabe is unable to deliver the book safely to Lucien, and many adventures ensue as the book slips in and out of the wrong hands. Whilst at Lucien’s castle, Gabe’s history is revealed (having been abandoned at Oldham Abbey as a baby), but this discovery must be put aside as more urgent matters are dealt with. I particularly loved this section of the book.
There are many heart stopping moments along the way, always handled with wit and humour, bravery and sheer determination. Gabe and his friends work as a tight team, managing to outsmart the villains during every close call. Lord Sherborne, Ronan of Feldham and Whitmore are constantly on the group’s tail, creating fast-paced action that makes the book hard to put down. There are also many touching, often comical, moments. I loved the scenes where the group pretend to be minstrels, and now that bookweek is behind him, my son should be grateful that I won’t be suggesting he dress up in red tights and a tunic, with only a lute for modesty…
I was fascinated by all things medieval as a child, and A. L. Tait has done a brilliant job at bringing this era to life. The Ateban Cipher series is crammed full of intricate detail – immense forests, stone castles, secluded abbeys, archery and falconry, noblemen and peasants. Horse or foot are the only methods of transport, and Midge’s pet, Albert – a peregrine falcon – is a constant companion, swooping down when called on to help the group out of trouble.
The code to the Ateban Cipher is finally deciphered, but this places the book, and therefore Gabe in more danger. The decision whether to stay at the Abbey, or leave and seek answers to his birth, is taken away from him, leaving the ending neatly resolved as far as books one and two go, but leaving room for a further instalment in the series.
It was great to spend time with Gabe, Eddie and the gutsy girls again. But am I ready to move on? Whilst the Map Maker Chronicles and Ateban Cipher novels are tucked away for safe keeping in my son’s bookcase, I would happily read future instalments. And if A. L. Tait is looking to turn her hand to Young Adult demographic in the near future, we would definitely be up for that!