Matt Mikalatos, known for his humorous quasi-autobiographical contemporary adult fantasies, Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christians, has shifted gears, proving yet again how talented he is. His latest book, released last December in paper, is a middle grade fantasy entitled The Sword of Six Worlds, Book One in the Adventures of Validus Smith series.
The Story. Validus Smith and her best friend Alex Shields know something is seriously wrong when their substitute teacher takes the side of the class bully. When he changes into a creature with fangs and tries to attack Validus, they escape by following two new students through a hole into a different world–one in which animals talk.
The “new students,” in fact, are animals–a tiger and a horse–who only took human form to bring Validus back to their world. They have been informed that she is the new paladin, and they desperately need her help in fighting the Blight which is bent on turning a series of worlds into dead planets. And so the adventure begins.
Evaluation. The Sword of Six Worlds is a delightful story. Both Validus and Alex are well painted. In their own world they are smart, obedient, polite, and survivors of the constant torture Jeremy Lane inflicts upon them with his words and his fists. In other words, they are sympathetic characters.
They aren’t perfect, and they have quirks. For example, Alex doesn’t text Validus to let her know he’s coming over, or even ring the doorbell. He tosses rocks at her window. Validus’s mother is always checking her temperature, worried she has a fever, and her dad is constantly reminding her not to lose her temper at school.
While Validus discovers she is the paladin, Alex discovers he is unique as well. They both have larger-than-life callings and they grow into their roles as events demand. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another, in spite of fears, and end up making other friends that are just as faithful.
The plot moves at a quick pace, with lots of tension. The story is not predictable, until perhaps towards the end–but then, it’s the end, so you can hardly say the story is unsurprising. As a matter of fact, I thought there were several unforeseen events.
I also like the cool fantasy elements. The talking animals worked, and Mikalatos played with them at times to give the story a bit of his humor.
The armadillo settled his monocle onto his needle nose, giving him an enormously magnified right eye. He twiddled his claws together in a nervous gesture, then motioned for the rat to climb back up with the scroll. Just as the rat reached the top, Benjamin [the tiger] cleared her throat and said, Yorrick.” The armadillo was so startled he knocked the poor rat to the ground again. The rat squeaked his displeasure and then lay on the ground, wrapped in the scroll like a toga. The armadillo slowly peeled his fingers from his eyes and peered out at Benjamin. “Ah,” he said. “You must learn not to use someone’s name without warning him.”
Better still was the Rock of Many Names and the things the rock mage could do. In all, the setting adds to the enjoyment of the story.
The plot certainly held my attention, but there were a couple places where I could see a need for improvement.
One is a situation that arose because Validus didn’t speak up. She was asked to speak up and she gave an answer, but when it became apparent she’d been misunderstood (and it should have been apparent right away), she did nothing to correct the mistake. This not speaking up continued for several chapters and actually led to a major plot point. Characters that don’t speak up generally irritate me, and I was feeling frustrated with Validus because a major dangerous situation could have been avoided if she’d answered the questions clearly, or at all.
The other point I thought could be strengthened was the climax. Up to that point, I had abandoned myself to the story and it proved to be as believable as discovering a world inside a wardrobe or having tea with a Faun. I loved it. The end, however, seemed a tad rushed, which made some of the elements seem not as believable as those at the beginning.
Recommendation. I’m excited to find this wonderful story that introduces the Architect who created the passageways between worlds and who guides the paladin. It’s a delightful tale middle grade children will enjoy, whether they read the book themselves or whether an adult is reading it to them. I highly recommend The Sword of Six Worlds to parents who want a fast-paced fantasy for their middle grader. This one will hold their interest and entertain from start to finish.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher free of cost.