Matt Mikalatos has tried his hand at juvenile (in the good sense) fantasy with The Sword of Six Worlds. He sent me a free copy to review, which shows tremendous courage on his part. I crucified his first book Imaginary Jesus, but he read the review patiently, extracted the good criticism, and forgave me for the histrionics. Thus began our unlikely online friendship. I was far more generous with Night of the Living Dead Christian, partly because it's pretty funny and insightful, and partly because I got to kill off an entire species when I helped Matt edit the draft. RIP, molemen.
The Sword of Six Worlds is written for kids. I won't guess a precise age, but I know Matt has small children (indeed, the book is dedicated to his three children), and based on the sketched out characters, I'm going with kids who aren't ready for Hunger Games or even the deeper themes of Narnia. Matt writes the story like a man who is comfortable telling stories to kids. His tone is never condescending and always filled with a whimsical wonder. One of the areas where Matt and I have differed substantially is in his kind of humor. In his books for adults, I find the humor too silly, a kind of literary slapstick. However, in Sword it works perfectly. Even in naming his fierce rock creature, Mikalatos understands that children will get the irony of changing Deathbringer's name to Pookie. It didn't work for me (even as I admit I might have smiled a bit), but kids will love it.
The story is of Validus, a girl who hates her name (It's from the Latin...), who must team up with otherworldly creatures and her best friend, Alex, a boy, to save several worlds from the forces of The Blight. It's swashbuckling fantasy for kids, and it's told with enthusiasm and a genuine love for the genre. The spiritual themes are woven in, not tacked on, so the book never feels preachy. I hope he can keep that tone throughout the upcoming books. Chapters are short and punchy, many with cliffhangers, making this perfect bedtime story material for parents with kids who are young enough to enjoy bedtime stories. The violence, such as it is, is never fatal, nor is it graphic, but Mikalatos includes it because this is a story about battle and swords and such. To avoid it would be false to the genre. Both lead characters are strong, making it good, fun reading for boys and girls, which is not to say that boys wouldn't identify with Validus, because I think they will. She's a strong, vulnerable lead female character, and that Matt has daughters for whom he has high hopes shows up in her character.