Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets
by A.L. Tait
Recommended Ages: 11+

One moment, Gabe is minding his business as a novice at the Oldham abbey, happily illuminating manuscripts and going to daily prayers. The next moment, he is on the run, charged by a dying brother to protect a precious (though unreadable) book. The abbey's evil prior is in cahoots with the corrupt local nobleman, his brutal sheriff and more, and now they're all after Gabe because he has something precious, even if he doesn't know why it is. With nowhere else to go, he falls in with a gang of merry outlaws – one of them is actually named Merry, in fact – who all just happen to be runaway girls.

If all they had to do was hide in the woods until the coast was clear, it would be easy. But Gabe doesn't understand the first thing about what he's supposed to do with the book, and the only information he can get about it comes from inside the walls of the abbey. Meanwhile, two of the girls want him to help them spring their father from the castle dungeons, and when that plan goes sideways, they end up with another boy in their keeping – this one claiming to be the crown prince, who has been betrayed by his head bodyguard and replaced with a lookalike.

Together, the four girls and two boys have a lot of close scrapes with the law, if it's even right to call that crooked bunch the law. While none of their schemes seem to get them any closer to their goals, they do inch closer to the truth about the book, a way to put the rightful prince back on his throne, and justice for the girls' dad. But a lot more danger lies ahead.

Gabe comes a long way in this book, facing challenges to his morally straight upbringing even while deeply missing his monastic home. His adventures are hair-raising and mysterious, but also envigorating at the same time. His depiction and that of his compatriots is sensitive and touching, when there's time to dwell on it between madcap chases, death-defying feats and suspenseful moments. But clearly, it'll take a sequel to get to the bottom of all that's really going on.

This is the first book of the Ateban Cipher duad, or duology, or whatever you call a two-book trilogy, by the Australian author of the (now four-book) Mapmaker Chronicles, the Maven & Reeve mystery The Fire Star and its upcoming sequel The Wolf's Howl, and the companion to this book, titled The Book of Answers.

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