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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“The Second Siege” by Henry H. Neff (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Official Henry H. Neff Website
Order “The Second Siege
Read An Excerpt HERE

Henry H. Neff’sThe Second Seige” is yet another book about a young boy who finds out that he is special in some hidden world of magic. With the success of Harry Potter, there was a surfeit of many YA books that had this same theme. At the end of the first book in Henry’s Tapestry series, “The Hound of Rowan,” I was ready to chalk up this book as one of those. There were certainly many, many similarities between the schools, the bad guy hiding in portraits and coming back to life after centuries of being believed to have been defeated. However, in “The Second Siege”, Book Two of the Tapestry, the series definitely took a major turn that was nothing like Harry Potter.

The Second Siege”, picks up right where “The Hound of Rowan” leaves off. A clan of witches have come to Rowan Academy, a magical school hidden in the New England area, to collect on an old debt owed from many years past. It appears that in exchange for hiding the great Book of Thoth, the witches would get any pupil that has the Old Magic running through them. If this debt is not paid, a curse will fall upon Rowan and all of its staff members. Max McDaniels, a thirteen-year-old who is believed to be the Cuchulain (the old hero of Rowan) reborn, and David, a young sorcerer who is beyond his years in the knowledge and magic ability that he possesses, are the conditions of this trade.

The plot quickly picks up from here, as the Book of Thoth, a magical book that contains the real name of every living creature—even creatures that haven't been brought into this world—is out there and Max and David have been entrusted with the mission of finding the book before Astaroth does. On this journey Max and David, along with Agent Cooper—a great agent of Rowan who is there to help in any way that he can—must go over sea, travel through parts of Europe (mostly Germany and Spain), and are even taken out of this world before they can retrieve the book.

A bunch of other adventures also occur involving imps, some sailors, and a quest to figure out what a mysterious key is that may help in finding the book. Also, questions will finally be answered about Max's mother, who disappeared three years ago…

From the moment that I started reading “The Second Siege”, I knew that Neff's writing had grown from the first book. First, I felt that the quality of writing had improved with more venturing into descriptions of actions instead of taking the safe road on a lot of the plots. Second, there seemed an overall better flow to the story. Instead of having a bunch of sub-plots and a feeling of the book running wild, “The Second Siege” introduced a central plot and main theme that kept going throughout the book and I found that characters and past events were easier to understand this way. However, a weakness of Neff's writing is his tendency to use the same words in describing people or events. For example, a lot of times people were described as doughy. I noticed this in the first book, and it’s a shortfall that has carried over in the second novel.

When I had read the buzz about “The Hound of Rowan”, there was a lot of talk about how the book was a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and mythology. In “The Second Siege”, the readers are definitely introduced to the whole spectrum of these styles: There's a lot of magical creatures along with magic that represent the fantasy world while computers, pods, science research, the whole school in Germany and much more provide the science fiction. Personally, I felt that the mix of fantasy and sci-fi was done really well without any awkwardness.

One of my favorite parts about series is the way that Irish mythology is incorporated like Max, who is believed to be the Cuchulain reborn. I found that Neff does a great job of explaining the back story to not only Cuchulain, but also to various Irish mythology references that pop up throughout the book. It doesn't scream of factual information, but it does have a very subtle way of getting across to the readers a form of mythology that many books haven’t written about.

Much of the focus in “The Second Siege” has to do with the characters Max and David with a lot of time spent exploring the two further. There are back stories and questions being answered. Again this could have been because of the writing style and that the plot is more central and less hectic too. A twist that I do think is a great way of separating this book from others is that Max, our main protagonist, isn't really the hero of the story. While he does do the fighting and defending of David, he isn't the one that knows all the answers. Instead he is more of a guardian to the hero of the story, and must make sure that the hero stays safe and completes the mission. I do think that there is a gap in explaining why David knows so much, like how he is now labeled a sorcerer in this book which was never really touched on. Even though I believe that this will be answered later on, this does brings another form of confusion to the story.

Along with Max and David's characters being developed further, I loved that we finally get to learn more about the other characters including Agent Cooper, who he is and why he's so tough. The director of the German school, Dr. Rasmussen, is also explained very well. He isn't flat, but has many sides to him. However, while some of the characters are becoming more three dimensional, others are still very simple and I wish that Neff had developed the director of Rowan and maybe some of the staff members a little more as it just seems like there’s a lack of connection between the staff and the students.

Although I enjoyed reading “The Second Siege”, there is still a whole lot of confusion regarding much of Rowan. A better job of exactly who is selected for Rowan and why its there could have been done. It's all very confusing as to what Agents (graduates of Rowan that go to work out in the field) are exactly doing. This was touched on a little bit with explanations about field offices, and bringing in the Red Branch of the Rowan, but maybe this is an area that is being slowly revealed to the readers as the series progresses. It just seems that I was left with a lot of questions about Rowan that should have been answered and which would have made the story flow a little easier.

There was one small problem I had as far as the storyline/plot goes: Max’s father. Basically, you have this kid who is supposed to be a hero and great fighter, and then you have his dad trailing around wanting to do and experience everything with his son. I really wish that Max's father had less of a role in the story as I found him annoying and not really necessary to the plot.

In conclusion, I feel that it was a shame that the first book so closely resembled Harry Potter because this series is really taking a life of its own. I think a lot of readers, had they read “The Hound of Rowan”, would have stopped reading the series, especially the older readers. Unfortunately, since “The Second Siege” offers very little as far as back story, reading the first book is necessary in understanding the rest of the series. Thankfully, seeing how the second book had improved from the first one, my interest in the Tapestry series was definitely renewed and the third one should be an adventure worth reading…


Sido said...

I'd never heard of this series before but the mythology within it seems interesting. However, as you say, shame it resembles the Harry Potter series in the first book...

Anonymous said...

I've read both of 'The Tapestry' novels and I strongly agree with everything that is said in this review. :)

Nonetheless, I believe that the second novel had a much more thrilling plot and leaves me thinking of what the next novel has to offer.

Rating: 8/10 (maybe 8.5 to be generous)

Nicole said...

The second book had a great plot and made for great reading, but I was left w/ a TON of questions. WHY was Henry part elf? Why did the elf king (or whatever they're called in Ireland)pick Henry's mom to mate with? What happened while he was training in the castle? It went from "break him" to him knowing everything. Why did the demon bite off the hand - we know they were whispering, but what EXACTLY were they talking about? What happened w/ Henry blacked out while fighting the werewolves? What was the point of the ribbon he kept tying on the bitten off stump? why were his memories of the girl he liked taken away? There was no point in that.

Unknown said...

that isnt henrey its MAX, nicole, and astroth didnt bite"henrys" hand off it was DAVID duhh

Cindy said...

I completely agree Nicole (just saw the comment). There are a LOT of questions that weren't answered that I would have liked touched on briefly.

Swift thank you for the comments :)

Maybe the person read the book a while back and is just commenting :).

Nicole said...

Cindy, Henry's actually answered my questions. I'll post them here in order for him not to have to answer them all over again. I hope he doesn't mind.
Wilma, thanks for the constructive criticism.

1. Why was Max part Elf? Max isn't part elf; elves aren't really a part of Celtic mythology. The Tuatha De Danaan were a race of godlike beings that preceded mankind. Since's Max's father is Lugh, he is half-immortal and thus 'supernatural' relative to his purely human kin. Many (in fact, most) heroes in mythology are of mixed parentage, mortal and immortal.

2. Why did Lugh choose Max's mother? Gods work in mysterious ways.... Perhaps he knew that she would give birth to Cuchulain reborn. Perhaps he thought her talents gave her the greatest likelihood of birthing a child of the Old Magic. Perhaps he just thought she was attractive. Perhaps it was a random selection. Like I said, gods work in mysterious ways....

3. What happened while Max was training in Lugh's castle? I will agree with you that this is a very abrupt transition. It is purposefully so and you will learn more along these lines in the next two books.

4. Why did Astaroth bite off David's hand? The right hand is a very symbolic selection - to take away one's right hand, literally or figuratively, is to greatly weaken that individual...

5. What did Astaroth whisper to David? Max didn't hear, so we might never know. Given the fact that David did not share this with Max at a later time, we can rest assured that it was either mundane pleasantries or something deeply disturbing....

6. What happened when Max blacked out fighting the vyes? Max does not know and thus we can't either. Max is still adusting to the Old Magic in his body and when it rises, it consumes him. You'll get greater insight in future books.

7. Why did Max have to write runes on a ribbon on David's stump? It was a detail of an old healing spell that Mr. Sikes knew (via Astaroth). It accelerated David's healing and made the imp seem even more useful to Max. As far as the mechanics of the spell and 'why' particular runes were inscribed, that's difficult to answer. Why does any spell work? The key to this spell was the incremental rune, the exposure to moonlight, and the noxious ink with which the rune was inscribed. These are products of my imagination.

8. Why were Max's memories taken away? They were manipulated to make Max feel increasingly alone, isolated, and consequently dependent on Mr. Sikes.

SNOP said...

In fact, the best thing about the novel is the villain! Astaroth reminds me of Frank from Once Upon a Time in the West – a nontrivial villain with very special, but very strong code of chivalry.

As for repetitive use of adjectives and/or adverbs, it is good to see that at least this time the translation is better than the original. Czech translation, which I have read, is free of these stylistic flaws.

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