This is a book I received from the publisher, Dundurn Press.
The Ruby Kingdom – Passage to Mythrin is a Young Adult novel and/or tween novel by Patricia Bow. I chose to read The Ruby Kingdom to myself for the first reading, as I wasn’t sure how much violence, suspense, and other Young Adult material there was. I prefer to know a book before I read it to my kids – even my 9 year old, who is somewhat sensitive about violence. After reading it to myself, I started reading it to my daughters.
The Ruby Kingdom starts when a girl named Ammy has arrived to live with her grandmother and cousin for six months when her parents are in South America. Simon and Amelia are both in eighth grade, but otherwise they are quite different. Simon has grown up with his grandmother, Celeste, in the small town of Dunstone. He remembers Ammy from two years before, and how much fun they had together.
After being re-introduced to his now-quiet cousin who arrives dressed in all black and with neon red hair tipped with “ballpark mustard yellow”, Simon wants to walk away. However, his grandmother gives him the mission of making Ammy feel at home, so he takes her out with his best friend Ike to show her around.
Ammy, or Amelia as she now wants to be known, wants to see something cool, and for a kid who lived in Vancouver, a small town two hours from Toronto isn’t cool. The boys brave the frigid temperatures to take her to the gorge, and “upside down mountain” with caves. When they are standing, overlooking the gorge, they see a bright blue flash of light, and then they see something coming out of the cave with the blue light – but what is it, and what is the ring that they discover in the cave?
Patricia Bow packs a lot of action and interest into The Ruby Kingdom from the first chapter. My kids were quickly sucked in, and were annoyed when I wouldn’t read a second chapter. They were still talking about what had happened the next day, and waiting to see what would come next. This is especially great because a lot of fantasy as well as a lot of tween/YA/read-aloud books start slow. They end up great, but you have to push through the first chapter or two. In The Ruby Kingdom, you are drawn in right away.
By using the third person, Bow is able to switch perspectives without confusing her readers. Simon is a reserved, somewhat geeky kid, and he will clearly do anything for his grandmother, including accepting the challenge of making Amelia feel at home. Meanwhile, Amelia is disgruntled at being left by her parents, and wants to do anything exciting. She is the one taking the risks, and pulling him along with her as they begin their adventure. As a mother of young girls, any book that starts with the girl leading the boys into adventures is one that has my vote from the start! Most fantasy involves main characters who are orphaned boys, and while Simon is an orphaned boy, Amelia is the one who leads. The difference between what Amelia is thinking and what Simon is thinking is profound, and the story is wonderfully told by looking into both of their heads.
The cousins and Ike learn that the blue flash is a type of gate that allows passage between a cave in Dunstone and the magical world of Mythrin. There is unrest in Mythrin, and the three teens need to figure out what is wrong, as well as what they need to do. Like normal teens, they quarrel about what they should do with what they have discovered – I especially enjoyed this because there are too many novels where the kids are instantly in accord with each other because of their new circumstances. In real kids, stress can bring about a lot of bickering, and The Ruby Kingdom actually dares to show that side of the three young teens.
As the story continues and they learn about the mysterious strangers who appear in Dunstone, the “people” of Mythrin, and the politics involved, the differences between Amelia and Simon become even clearer. Simon is hesitant, and slow to become involved. Amelia is brash, and leaps into things with both feet. Even as they are taking different approaches to the mysteries that surround them, they are pulled together. The cousins were put together by circumstance at first, but then they feel a bond between them.
Each of the characters in the book is really brought to life in The Ruby Kingdom- I can picture my older daughter exploring along with Simon, Ike, and Amelia. When they discover the first mysterious stranger, Mara, you can visualize her as she appears to them. You can understand why Amelia is drawn Mara’s uniqueness, and why Simon is distrustful. The next stranger is unsettling, and Patricia Bow describes his eyes as he watches the teens in such a way that it is haunting. Even the grandmother, Celeste, is brought to life – she could easily be a caricature, but you see her love for her grandchildren as well as her own personality.
The Ruby Kingdom gets high marks from me, and while we haven’t finished it as a read-aloud book, it has gotten the attention of all 3 listeners (9, 7, 4). It completely enchanted me, and kept me wondering what would happen next in the magical and perilous worlds – ours and Mythrin. Each chapter unlocks the world a bit, and I am really looking forward to reading as Patricia Bow continues the Mythrin series! I would recommend this for kids about 8-16, as well as adults who enjoy reading about fantasy – a great book for those who enjoyed Harry Potter, and it’s less violent. This is a book that is vividly brought to life, and my only complaint is that the sequel is not yet available!
Addendum: When we finished the series, the girls thought that Book 2 becoming available in May for BG’s birthday was perfect. They also said that it was the best book I had read to them – even better than Harry Potter! They now want to become shape-shifters when they grow up…