Intriguing, Macabre Mystery-Ride Morphs into Mediocre Sentimental Journey
Gabriel Finley & The Raven’s Riddle
by George Hagen
Series: Unnamed Series, Book 1
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Booklist, Publishers Weekly
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How can 11-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father . . . or to his death.
Ravens today have a bad rap. They’re associated with death and dying and portrayed as ruthless carrion-eaters. In Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, George Hagen’s first foray into Kids Lit, we learn that long ago, ravens and humans spoke to and aided one another. Though that dynamic has since changed, the men in Gabriel Finley’s family have a peculiar connection to ravens. Gabriel’s uncle Corax and his father Adam have mysterious pasts. And unbeknownst to him, Gabriel’s destiny ties in to their disappearances and their bonding with birds. As he approaches his twelfth birthday, things start to get really interesting.
Hagen has borrowed inspiration from the Norse myth Huginn and Muninn to create a unique urban fantasy world where good and bad birds (ravens and valravens) play major roles in a struggle between good and evil. The early part of the book is fascinatingly dark and foreboding. I thought more than once that the novel would make for perfect October/Halloween material. The reading experience is a slow burn. As Gabriel learns more about the stories of his father and his uncle, the world expands gradually but enticingly so, like a bird unfurling its wings. Inserted among the darkness are lighthearted moments of humor and whimsy — the most notable involving a magical desk that rearranges itself.
Unfortunately, before this promising premise has a chance to take flight, the novel’s wings are clipped. Once Gabriel discovers and undertakes his quest, things get bumpy. It’s difficult to effectively communicate just where and how things go awry. But somewhere along the way, the mood shifts markedly from ominous to almost hokey. Additionally, once the assembled heroes embark on their journey, it becomes difficult to ignore just how thinly drawn these characters are. When some of the avian members are more fully realized than the humans, you know you’ve got a problem. Mostly, it just felt as if the inspiration fizzled out, leaving behind a book that followed an expected script in plot, message, and theme. There may be brighter skies in subsequent offerings, but I fear I could trace the breadcrumbs dropped for a future installment to their likely endings.
— Dawn Teresa
3.5 of 5 Hearts. Intriguing, Macabre Mystery-Ride Morphs into Mediocre Sentimental Journey.
George Hagan’s first flight into middle grade fiction begins with beautifully melancholic notes teeming with promise. Sadly, Gabriel Finley and The Raven’s Riddle trades in its singular garb mid-flight for ill-fitting Harry Potter hand-me-down clothes.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”