Under Cover: Spellbound by “Spirit Animals”

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Animals Cover_MOCKUP.inddIt is not a rare occurrence for me to know the release date of a book I am particularly interested in, and eagerly anticipate its arrival.

On the flip side, I can count on one hand (perhaps with fingers left over) the number of times that any of my children have been excited enough about their reading material to anxiously await the availability of a new book.

This month adds one more finger to the tally, as my youngest, Luke, looks forward with excitement to the release of “Spirit Animals Book 3:  Blood Ties” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, available on March 25.

I know what you’re thinking—spirit animals? Really? I know, because I thought the same thing. In fact, Luke had to ask for the book three times before I got it, which, if you know me, you know doesn’t happen. I never say no to books. I just thought this would be, well…dumb. It wasn’t until he offered to buy it with his own money that I caved, and I’m so glad I did.

We are just finishing the first book, “Spirit Animals Book 1: Wild Born,” by Brandon Mull. The second installment, “Hunted,” by Maggie Stiefvater, is already on deck.

Best known for his work on the other middle grade fantasy series, “Fablehaven” and “The Beyonders,” Mull kicked off this new line with a bang. Set in the land of Erdas, a place much like Earth, with far-flung lands and distinct nationalities, the series revolves around the Greencloaks, a group of people who have bonded with a spirit animal, and have taken an oath to protect Erdas and its people.

In Erdas, as each 11 year old comes of age, they are required to take a sip of a mystical drink known as nectar. For most, nothing happens. For those destined to call a spirit animal however, this is the moment when their animal first becomes known to them.

The bond between human and animal offers both a unique heightening of powers. In a symbiotic relationship, they are now able to draw off each other’s strengths to in turn enhance their own abilities.

At the outset of the saga, Erdas is poised for war. The long ago defeated and forgotten “Devourer,” a monster-under-the-bed type ne’er do well, who most grow up believing is merely the stuff of legend, is readying those at his bidding to launch an attack on the lands comprising Erdas.

As danger lurks at their doors, our four young protagonists taste the nectar, and to their great surprise, call not just any spirit animal, but the spirits of the great warrior animals, known as the Four Fallen, who perished defending Erdas in a great war long ago. For Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan, it means the end of the life they previously knew, and the start of a new role, wherein the fate of their world lies largely upon their shoulders.

The series, with each book written by a different noted children’s author, also offers readers the opportunity to become part of the story. As a companion experience to the well-written, engaging storyline, the publisher, Scholastic, has also created an online game version, where fans of the story can create a unique hero, find their spirit animal, and embark on a quest of their own. The more books they read, the more they can unlock in the game.

Taking full advantage of the multi-platform experience, Luke’s online avatar, Rohan Swiftarrow, and his spirit animal, Jinx the tiger, have already begun their journey.

Although I’m surprised at how much we are both enjoying this book, I wouldn’t for a second trade the experience. It has been a reminder to myself, quite literally, not to judge a book by its cover.

Edie Crabtree is an avid reader and the mother of three active boys. She can be reached at [email protected].

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