“You have a power within you, one that is within everyone…It’s the same power that fills that building, that keeps that tree alive…and the same power that has attracted your attention…I know it’s all a bit strange to you, but I assure you it is quite real…” Eleven-year-old Luke Rayburn has never seen a skyline without skyscrapers or fallen asleep to anything but the sound of traffic. But his life is about to change in ways he never imagined. When his father leaves for a year of military service, Luke and the rest of his family move into their grandparents’ home in the remote town of Countryside, a place like no other. Reachable only by a mysterious traveling tunnel and horse-drawn carriage, centaurs roam the landscape and shadowy wraiths slip among the trees. There, Luke will be drawn into a centuries-old quest for an almost-forgotten book whose secrets will determine the fate of the world. He will have to reach deep to discover the power within him as he battles the forces of darkness and an alliance of sinister men who seek to destroy any who get in their way. Luke’s only hope is to find the book before they do, but to do so he’ll need help from someone he never expected as the forces of evil come to bear on the magical world of Countryside.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I started this book a long time ago, like several months ago, but school got in the way, making it so I could, at most, read only a chapter a day which absolutely sucks. I hate reading that way. I would rather not read for a week and then get to spend an entire day reading. All of this ten pages here, ten pages there business doesn’t work for me. Anyways, back to the book.
Countryside: The Book of the Wise didn’t capture me completely, as evidence shows it took me such a long time to read it. Yes, I did have a lot of stuff get in the way of me reading this book, but, if I was really captured, I would have annoyed my roommates with the kindle light until the wee hours of the morning. I would have found the time to read it, getting behind on sleep or work. I think my hesitation with this one stemmed from the writing style. It is more descriptive than books I normally read and sets up for a second book – which adds elements I felt slowed the story down, like describing what the magic school is like, the classes, and extracurriculars (like football). However, I think these elements might be necessary for this world, the age of the characters, and most importantly, for the age of the intended readers. The school life is important to kids this age, fictional or not, and therefore, it would be important to add these mundane happenings to this novel, especially when setting up for a series, because then the world is more important and has to be well enough created to withhold more pages.
The beginning couple of chapters still, I would say, have way more elements than necessary, like characters. This book has SO many characters. Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, 4 siblings, uncle, house worker people, centaurs, school teachers, several friends and their parents… a lot of whom we get enough of a taste of to know they are important, but then again, they are on the pages so briefly that keeping track of the army of characters is difficult. Especially in those first chapters. The element of magic can make things hard to understand, and while in the majority of the book, the magic is explained in beautiful detail, the prologue starts out with several characters, one going by more than one name. Thus, the prologue is hard to follow.
We do know, though, that something is happening in Countryside. There is some evil entity trying to steal a book, which holds power. I really relate to this because I have a little sister who threatens to throw my books in the toilet every time I don’t do the thing she asks of me, like getting her grape juice. Hold on to your books, kids. People might try to control you with them. Anyways, before Luke finds out about this book, he gets to learn about the world of Countryside, which he had never lived in before this novel. He didn’t know magic existed. When he comes to Countryside and starts learning about the magic he, and the world, has, he also discovers there is something sinister. People getting into Countryside that shouldn’t be. Locked doors. Shadows moving through his grandparents’ house. Slowly, he and his friends unravel the mystery of the book and race to find it before those desperate to use it for evil.
Now, the part we really want to talk about – the magic! Well done, I must say. Well done. I could really see the magic. The school and centaurs remind me of Harry Potter (“It’s wingardium liveosa, not liveosaaaaahh.”), which some might think is a bad thing because “oh look, it reads just like Harry Potter.” Nope, nope, nopity, no. That is not what I mean. I mean there is a wizarding school and it is cool, okay? Everything with magic will basically forever be compared to Harry Potter because Harry Potter. And then, there’s like a combination Harry Potter brick wall and Narnia wardrobe moment to get to the magical world of Countryside. There are protective wards, too, common in so many books, but I’m thinking of Percy Jackson, so I might as well add that one to the list while I am comparing Countryside to other books I’ve read. This one takes many elements of magic we’ve heard of before, yet still manages to create a intriguing, fantastic place. One of my favorite is when Luke learns about opening the door to his room. He places his hand against the door, his symbol appears, and it opens for him, like the magical version of a fingerprint or retinal scanner.
I don’t know if anyone else but me gets ‘vibes’ from books. Like, “this book feels like this one, although this one is about unicorns eating cotton candy and this one is about cannibal minotaurs.” I guess it must be writing style, because generally I can never find a way to link the books otherwise, except for Drown by Junot Diaz and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I think the thing similar about them is that they don’t make humans out to be the hero. They are brutally honest about the faults of the main characters. They are us. They are human. (So if you liked one of those, maybe check out the other!) Back to Countryside. The book I can most successfully get similar vibes from is The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. These are pretty old (1970’s) and I don’t think very well known. There are five of them, I believe, but it’s been about a decade since I read them (half my life!). Came out with a movie too, The Seeker, which I watched about a million times before I knew it was based off a book, then my 3rd grade teacher (or was it 6th grade?) was getting rid of some books. I found those ones, started reading them, and then realized one of the books matched that movie I had watched (then of course, I had to go watch the movie again to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself). So, if you liked The Dark is Rising, check out Countryside, and vice versa. From what I remember, The Dark is Rising is much, excuse me giggling in the background, darker than Countryside.
Okay, lets add another negative in here.
Many times, I got pulled out of the book because certain descriptions of the people, like ‘wide-eyed faces,’ ‘hand over her chest,’ ‘looked around the room,’ – honestly I can’t figure out what I’m trying to get at here, but it is something about the way the people move. I don’t think it’s that they move too much, but maybe that the way the people are described moving doesn’t seem authentic. If that makes any sense. Like, we always hear people nodding and shrugging and looking here or there. This book describes a lot of that. Maybe these moves don’t seem authentic because they are cliche movements, which, I don’t know, I’ve never hear anyone talk about movements as being cliche and we all nod and shrug constantly (or I do anyways). My point is, I wish the people were described moving differently. More individualized statements, individual to these characters and who they are and how they move. Who are they? What is their character? And how does this affect the way they move? Does this character have really long nails and therefore must pick up this book with flat fingers? Just something to give the descriptions more personality.
So. Here we are, at the end of this review. The good – the world and the magic are amazing. This book is set up to be the beginning of a captivating, although likely not well known, series. I get the feeling this series will have a decent group of hard-core fans, but not take off beyond that. Either people will love it, or hate it. That’s just my sense of it, although I always hope for more! The bad – the writing style, specifically the movement, isn’t personally my taste, a little too drawn out, but that’s me. Also, a little slow. In the end, I say 3/5 stars.