Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen
Schwartz & Wade, 2014
Available: Hardcover, Kindle edition, audiobook, audio download
Once humans and ravens were friends, and then one day a desperate raven, told he could achieve immortality by eating human flesh, betrayed a human friend and transformed into a murderous valraven, an immortal bird with an insatiable appetite for gore, but otherwise identical to ordinary ravens. Unable to tell the difference, human/raven relationships dissolved. Now, the only way to tell the difference between an ordinary raven and a valraven is by asking a riddle.
This is the background of Gabriel Finley’s story. Gabriel’s parents have both mysteriously disappeared, leaving with his loving but distracted Aunt Jaz, and a lot of unanswered questions. When his father’s childhood diary appears, Gabriel begins to discover answers to some of those questions. The desire of the valravens for immortality has tainted his family, which has always had a special relationship with ravens. It is up to Gabriel, Paladin (his new raven friend), and a motley group of companions, to save Gabriel’s father and the world.
The journey Gabriel must take requires all of his wits, for the only way a raven or his companion can be identified as trustworthy is by solving riddles. And there are obstacles in the way—runaway writing desks, thieves, bullies, owls, and tyrannical houseguests. Gabriel’s father taught him to love riddles, though, so he has a fighting chance.
There is so much that feels familiar about Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. The boy who leaves home on a quest to find a parent and save the world; travels through a strange, underground world; animal companions; solving puzzles and riddles; selflessness that saves the day. All these are familiar tropes in a children’s fantasy adventure story, and at times certain aspects reminded me of other books I’ve read: Gregor the Overlander also includes an underground quest to save his father, and animal companions; Chasing Vermeer takes place in a modern school setting, with puzzles and riddles a major part of the story; A Wrinkle in Time depends on selflessness and love to save the day. None of those books are really like Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, though; instead, Hagen has successfully taken the familiar and made it new, giving us a fresh take. Children aged 9-12 and Harry Potter readers looking for their next fix won’t want to put down this Gothic-touched, magical, contemporary fantasy. Highly recommended.
Contains: Some gore, violence
Reviewed by Kirsten Kowalewski