Monday, September 7, 2009
Review of Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese
Catanese, P.W. Happenstance Found (The Books of Umber #1). Aladdin, 2009.
Young Happenstance awakens in a dark cave, not remembering who he is or where he came from. A voice tells him his name - and then a group of explorers discovers him and the sealed note in his pocket. It seems that the owner of the mysterious voice wants Happenstance to go with this group - the dapper and indefatigable Lord Umber, a teenager with a missing hand named Sophie, and a strong man named Oates - and so he does.
Lord Umber is a collector of mysteries, preferably magical ones, traveling all over the world to uncover them and to bring information back home to his home in Kurahaven. He is also an inventor, a merchant, a conqueror of an evil witch, and rather a mystery himself.
Most of all, Umber is one of those vivid and charismatic characters whose ebullience and complexity make him stand out from everyone around him. The story may take place from Hap's perspective, but he remains a bit of a cipher, even to himself, due to his amnesia. He's a nice enough lad, and certainly his strange powers and green eyes are intriguing, but this story belongs to Umber.
There are a couple of other interesting characters, but they are not nearly so well developed as Umber and in some cases seem woefully sketchy - the biggest example being Sophie, who is almost never mentioned after we first meet her. I very much want to learn how a young artist like her got a job illustrating Umber's manuscripts.
Although not all that much happens plot-wise (a Bad Creature comes hunting Happenstance; Happenstance starts uncovering his own puzzling powers; a tiny man wields a mighty sword during a kidnapping), I was quite happy with the quirky writing, the atmospheric setting, and most of all the strange mysteries of Hap and Umber. An imaginative new fantasy series is always cause for joy.
Recommended for ages 9 to 13.