I’m reviewing two books today instead of one, because I started book two last night and it sucked me right in and I finished it! Yes, this is a recommendation, right off the bat. I’ve really enjoyed both books, despite that they are written for YA or younger. I’ve already recommended The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin to several people, and sent a paper copy to my kids, who will love it. I’ll share what they have to say, if I can get more than ‘it was good’ out of them, later.
The really quick summary of the series is that it’s Harry Potter meets Narnia. It’s more than that, but for me, that’s enough. I grew up reading and re-reading CS Lewis’ classic children’s series. I encountered Harry Potter as an adult, reading the first one as a possible usable book in a magic and literacy show we were building. It was fun, but the teen angst got a little heavy and annoying at times. Narnia was a world I wouldn’t have minded visiting, even now. The Christian allegory underpinning that world I knew of, and enjoyed, and felt it gave a depth to the tales that could be taken, or left, as you would.
Rachel Griffin inhabits a world of magic that is hidden from most of the other people, like Potter’s Muggles. Only in the Lamplighter books, the mundane community is called the Unwary. Lamplighter’s very young thirteen year-old Rachel, newly arrived at the magical Roanoke Academy, explains to a new friend that the magical community acts as a sort of buffer, to protect the Unwary from strong magics that would harm them. And with her arrival, she promptly tumbles into a conspiracy that seems to be targeted at breaking down that protective barrier between the worlds.
In the second book, The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel, the danger from the first one has been superficially resolved, but we quickly discover that it was merely the tip of a much more dangerous scheme, one that could destroy not only Rachel’s world, but all in the linked Multiverse. I think I’m using terminology she doesn’t use in the books, but this is the essence of it. Rachel meets a wise, beautiful elf with a tragic past, and learns to keep her secrets. The ending of this second book closes out the arc begun in the first, but leaves openings for sequels.
I say I really enjoyed the books, and I would heartily recommend them to any children of an age to read Harry Potter and above. If you still enjoy a revisit to the Pevensies, as an adult, you will also likely be charmed and happy with this world. Something you and I will grasp, but younger readers are unlikely to, is the threads beneath the surface in this world. Rachel, in her quest to know simply everything in the world, keeps coming across seemingly orphaned words that she can’t find definitions for, and they confuse her. Words we all know, like steeple, saint, and angel, are unheard of in her magical universe. She finds a statue of a woman with wings in the forest, and wonders what manner of being this is. I can see where Lamplighter is going with the books, I’m curious how this will play out in the series.
In a nod to Lewis, there is a very small lion, the size of a housecat, who at one point in the books is seen in a vision as being “larger than the Universes” and who can talk, but rarely does. Two of my favorite characters are the enigmatic Siggy and his familiar dragon Lucky, and I can easily see these tow have a long and tragic story to tell, while on the surface being the bumbling clowns of the piece. Can you tell I’m looking forward to more of this series?