The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey – Review by Barb Middleton
Generations of klutzes run in my family. Grandma is infamous for throwing chicken grease into the furnace and causing an explosion that fried off her eyebrows, eyelashes, and bangs. I am not sure my infamy. Maybe when I set 16 boxes of cereal on fire preheating the oven as a teenager (mom quit storing them in there after that incident). Or maybe when I melted the microwave with a stove-top grease fire. Or maybe when I torched the bamboo steamer basket while making Chinese dumplings. In The Vengekeep Prophecies, Jaxter is a kindred spirit – a clod who is finding it difficult to follow the family business of thieving. When his first burglary attempt results in him burning down the house and getting caught… well, you can see why I’d be hooked. But it isn’t just the great characters, fast pace, humor, unpredictable plot, and terrific world building that kept me tooling through this book, I also liked the themes of having courage, making friends and discovering what you love to do and pursuing it.
Jaxter Grimjinx comes from a family of famous thieves that spans generations. Da’s a master burglar, while Ma’s forgeries are second to none. His sister can pick a pocket unseen while Jaxter can break low-level spells using non-magic. When the family plots the big heist, things go “zoc” when the fake prophecy that Ma has weaved into a tapestry that tells Vengekeep its futures comes true bringing natural disasters and monsters bent on destroying the town. Only Jaxter can save them by finding the means to break the tapestry’s enchantment.
The twist on prophecies was a whole lotta fun. Here a fake prophecy comes true and the Grimjinx family watches in horror as their heist backfires and an unpredictable and interesting quest ensues with Jaxter making friends with a strong-willed girl and a cowardly mage. The supporting characters are well-rounded and their motivations are clear. Every time I would have a question it was answered in this well-crafted story. The only loose end involves Jaxter’s sister and even that question is asked, but the sister doesn’t answer, suggesting a sequel.
The madeup words are a hoot along with the delicious humor. Rick Riordan is one of few fantasy writers who makes me laugh steady through his stories. I can add Farrey to that list. I also appreciated that Jaxter and Callie, his friend, are 12-years-old. Callie’s wit, attitude, and search for independence and Jaxter’s intelligence and search to find something he is good at are spot on. Too often I read a book with a 9-year-old who sounds like a teenager.
I’m not sure how Farrey manages to make a family of thieves so likeable and noble, but he does. The parents have morals and are more like Robin Hood taking from the rich and never the poor. When the townspeople need help, they are there to rescue them. When Jaxter struggles with his future, they give wise, loving advice. The entire family looks on the positive side of a situation no matter how grim. There are some great lines in this book, particularly when the parents don’t like Jaxter’s comments. Da says, “Sorry, Son, what was that? I was too busy ignoring you.” And mom several paragraphs later, “Sorry Son, I missed that… Ignoring you can be a full-time job.” Ooh, I’d love to use that on the kids at school. See what I mean? Delicious.
Great read aloud. Great story. “Bangers!” I just can’t say enough good things about this novel. Read it!
Barb Middleton is the Lower School Librarian at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan. She grew up in Minnesota before embracing the overseas lifestyle. She has a lesson blog and book review blog. Follow her on Twitter @middletonba.