Thursday, May 8, 2014

ARC Review: A Path Begins - J. A. White

A Path Begins by J. A. White
Series: The Thickety #1
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasy
Published on May 6, 2014
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 469
Read From: 4.27.14 - 4.29.14

When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic. . . .except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr's Realm. But mostly it's called the Thickety. 
When an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother. 
And that is just the beginning of the story.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like the cover art, with the creepy silhouettes. It definitely sets up the right atmosphere for this book - the darkest, creepiest Middle Grade fantasy I have ever read.

Characters: Kara is a strong twelve-year-old who has to bear the entire weight of taking care of her family. Her father is too broken over what happened to Kara's mother that he's gone into a complete mental and emotional shutdown, and Taff is constantly ill, so he can't do much to help Kara without worsening his condition. I'm always a huge fan of truly strong female protagonists, especially kids, and Kara definitely makes it to the very top of my list as applaudable girls. Taff was adorable and something of a pill - just as little brothers tend to be. And Grace . . . Grace was creepy. She wasn't sympathetic; she wasn't redeemable; she wasn't even your typical rude, snotty, primping little brat. She was flatout creepy. She was evil. She was a demon. She was just horrid. In short, she freaked me out. A twelve-year-old shouldn't be able to freak an adult Reader out as much as Grace did! It's not normal. I really liked Lucas, too - Kara's only friend. He isn't in it a whole lot, and he doesn't play a very big role, but I did really like him. I wish Kara had trusted him more. All of the other characters are equally good. It in fact rather surprised me how well developed everyone was. They were equal parts hateful, likable, and interesting. If you hate a character, you hate that character; if you like them, you really like them.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: On the island of De'Noran live the followers of The Path - founded by the legendary Timoth Clen, who rid the world of magic and witches. Kara and her family, too, followed The Path faithfully. Even so, Kara's mother was accused of witchcraft and killed when Kara was just five. It's years later now, and she's twelve, but the taint of her mother's supposed witchcraft is still upon Kara's family - and especially Kara herself. Everyone fears that she's just like her mother, but Kara is determined never to be. But then one day she's lured into the Thickety - a haunting, magical place that no one has ever gone into and lived. Or if they have, they lose their minds. It's said that the Thickety is the dwelling place of Sordyr, the devil. And when Kara ventures into its strange realms, she finds a black book - a witch's grimoire. And it just might have been her mother's. Kara soon learns that she does, in fact, have powers, and as she learns things from the grimoire, her power grows. And so does her hunger and need to use it. Witches may not be evil themselves, but perhaps what Timoth Clen said about magic is, in fact, true. I'll say this right now: this is a Middle Grade fantasy, but I would never in a million years give this to any child under the age of thirteen. This is the creepiest, darkest, most violent Middle Grade novel I have ever read. As an adult, I loved it. As a kid, it would have given me an endless number of nightmares. None of you will truly be able to understand just what I mean about it being dark and violent until you've read for yourself. It will shock you. There is nothing lighthearted about A Path Begins at all, and Readers are introduced to a world of nightmarish creatures, dark magic, and torture scenes (yes, torture scenes). I'm not the sort of Reader who slams Harry Potter because it has some magic, and no child should read it. When I say this has an overall ambiance of darkness and grimness and creepiness, I mean it. No eight-year-old is going to sleep well after reading this book! That said, it's also a very good book (just not for eight-year-olds). The island of De'Noran kind of reminded me of The Village. Everyone lives like they are in the Puritan era, but there are tiny hints that the countries outside of De'Noran, and where the followers of The Path originally came from - called the World - may in fact be modern. So while A Path Begins feels like a historical setting, I can't help but wonder if maybe it's just their community, and that like in The Village, they left our society. The Thickety itself was intriguing and creepy - very creepy. I'm not naturally afraid of the woods, having lived in and around it all my life, but I wouldn't want to be in the Thickety at any time of the day. The plot is not slow at all. And as I've stressed a great deal already, it's dark. A Path Begins with Kara witnessing her mother's execution, and nearly getting executed herself. The Author doesn't soften the depicting of Kara's mother's limp body hanging from the tree. The rest of the book follows Kara's quick spiral into evil magic as the grimoire consumes the good in her, and it also follows Sordyr constantly trying to lay claim to Kara's soul - which is ultimately the grimoire's purpose. There isn't a single moment where you can laugh in this book, and I mean that sincerely.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. As I already said, the Author's character development is very well done. His style is Middle Grade, but it also has an extremely dark overtone to it.

Content: Sheer creepiness. Kara is tortured so she'll confess to being a witch. While we don't read the actual scene, we get to learn and hear about all of the various methods they have of making witches confess, and Kara does eventually get put through the thumb screws. She's also staked to the ground and people pile rocks on top of her to get her to confess. There's creepy creatures that tear people to shreds (rending, screaming, gore, blood, and body pieces are most definitely mentioned), and Kara succumbs several times to the grimoire's evil desires and subject several (granted, deserving) people to a painful death. Others are beat to death with blunt objects, and many characters show up drenched in blood and sporting gore-speckled daggers. I am not exaggerating! Again, as a teen/adult, I can handle that. But an eight year old?!

Conclusion: One of the blurbs on the back of the book said you wouldn't expect the twist at the end. Well, she was right. I didn't. And I am very much excited to see what the sequel holds in store for us. The Thickety: A Path Begins is a good book - if you're not an eight year old. I did enjoy it, though for the majority of the book I was in such a state of complete shock. I've read a lot of Middle Grade books, and many of them have been dark. But the sheer amount of darkness - and yes, gore - just totally threw me. Middle Grade fantasies can have peril, deaths, scary creatures, magic, and even a bit of blood. But this . . . I challenge any one of you to read this book and not be shocked. Don't read it from the standpoint of this is for teens, because it isn't. The copy I have says it's for ages 8-12. I loved this book, but I would have hated it as a kid.

Recommended Audience: At the youngest, thirteen. Girls and boys will both like it, and those Readers who enjoy creepy or who don't mind violence and like witch stories will also enjoy this. Parents: just don't give it to your eight-year-old. And if you do: don't say I didn't warn you.

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