Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

Did you know that ravens greet one another with a riddle? Or that ravens love riddles? Did you know that evil flesh-eating valravens don’t appreciate riddles, and that’s how you can tell them apart from the good ravens? Neither did I, and neither did young Gabriel Finley until he met and bonded with his own raven, a young bird, who hadn’t even learned to fly yet, named Paladin.

There are a lot of things to like about this story: The riddles. The flying (Gabriel can fly while bonding with Paladin). The essential goodness and humility of Gabriel, our protagonist. Aviopolis, the hidden bird city. However, there were also some problems, which may or may not bother younger (third and fourth grade) readers. The problems will most likely rule out older middle grade readers.

I felt the author, who has only published adult fiction previous to this book, condescended to middle grade readers. The riddles that are sprinkled throughout the story often have similar solutions, instead of showcasing different kinds of riddles. Gabriel takes an entourage of friends and possible enemies along with him when he goes on a quest to find his father, but I could see no reason for the company. Gabriel is the only one who really has the ability to bond with a raven, and he’s the only one who can “save the world” with his riddling abilities. The only companions he actually needs are a duplicitous old man who has been to Aviopolis before and might know how to find Gabriel’s dad and of course, the bird Paladin.

Also, Gabriel seems to be really slow to catch on to rather obvious plot and character developments. I think this slowness on Gabriel’s part may reflect a lack of respect by the author for the intelligence of young readers. A boy like Gabriel really should be able to figure out what is happening and whom he can trust more quickly than he does.

So, I do recommend Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle with some reservations. Some kids are going to love it, but others are going to be just as annoyed as I was with the rather dense protagonist and his erstwhile friends. Oh, and the flesh-eating valravens are going to be a deal breaker for some kids. I never watched Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds for that very reason.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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