Book Review: The Book of Secrets by M. L. Little
(Seventh Realm Trilogy #1)
You are so consumed with dying, you are forgetting to live. And what purpose on earth has that served you?
The Book of Secrets isn’t an easy book to review. There’s so much to cover in this rich story that I’m going to have to break it down a little. I wasn’t even sure whether to rate it four stars or five, so I ended up going with 4 ½ . Giving stars to a book is subjective. It’s based on more than prose, plot, and characters. A large part of it is simply “Did I enjoy it and how much?” I will say, if you are looking for a story that is whimsical yet compelling with a large cast of memorable and likeable characters, search no further.
One of the things that really drew me into this story is the compelling and rich world. It just feels BIG. Even though the plot mainly takes place in a relatively small area of the world—what is known as the Glennerdells—there’s mention of other countries, of history, of even other realms not of this world. Yet the author doesn’t bog down the prose with long descriptions and irrelevant details, but rather weaves in tidbits throughout the story. The world building impressed me perhaps more than any other part of this book because as a writer myself, I find this the most complicated part of writing a novel.
The world building of The Book of Secrets goes beyond just places and history, but it’s rich with people and creatures—Bellicans, Vikings, trolls, nullians, wolfdragons, wizards, witches, seers, wisps, and the list goes on. There is also a mysterious person—man, wizard, or deity?—known as Brim. What really makes the story unique is that it takes place in a world almost as modern as ours. Perhaps if you combined Harry Potter with Wonderland and Narnia, you would arrive at something like this book. Really, this story has all my favorite things.
What’s a story without its characters? If I’m going to love a story, I’m going to have to love its characters. The Book of Secrets follows the point-of-view of Gabriel Draven, a thirteen year old boy, who lives with his siblings in the Backcountry. The other main characters are his older sister Ren and younger brothers Hollis and Patch. I have to say that Patch (who is only six) is my favorite. I love sibling stories, and as a mom of four, I can attest that the author did a good job of making the siblings talk, squabble, and act like children. Their interactions are fun and endearing. I wish that some of the story had been told in the point-of-view of the other siblings. I would have liked to know a little more about the motivations behind Ren and Hollis in particular.
Besides the siblings, there several other important characters that I won’t take the time to go into in this review. I enjoy books with a large cast, but it was almost overwhelming at the beginning. This was partly my fault because I often read more than one book at a time, and whenever I came back to The Book of Secrets, I found myself flipping back of few pages to remind myself of who someone was. This book is the sort of novel that you need to set everything else aside and give it your full attention. It’s certainly worth it.
The Book of Secrets is a young adult novel, so as expected the plot is relatively simple and appropriate for that audience; however, it is not so immature that an adult cannot enjoy it. I find stories that appeal to a wide range some of the best. I think this book would make a good read-aloud for the whole family.
The basic plot starts in the Prologue eleven months before the main story. A strange man looking for “Caravel”—a place that doesn’t exist—suddenly arrives and just as quickly mysteriously vanishes. After he disappears, Gabriel steals and hides an unusual stone that the stranger dropped. “Coincidentally” Gabriel later discovers a strange book that seems to have been made to hold the stone—and is connected somehow with his deceased mother. Soon after the stone comes in contact with the Book of Secrets, strange creatures appear out of the book, and worse, nighthags come after Gabriel. Gabriel and his siblings set out on a quest to get rid of the book. During their adventure, they meet some new friends, make new enemies, and discover secrets about their mother. And Gabriel begins to wonder what about their mother’s memory makes Ren so angry.
I won’t go into every detail of the plot, but the majority of it consists of the children avoiding danger as they try to figure out who to trust and what to do with the book and stone. Again, it’s a pretty basic plot, but it does have few surprises. The most interesting for me is when the stone takes Gabriel to one of the other realms at which point he becomes a “stone-wielder.” Gabriel returns from the fourteenth realm with a new determination and outlook. The book and stone are soon placed safely in a mountain, where Brim appears to Gabriel and has a weighty but somewhat cryptic conversation. The Bellicans attack, but are temporarily repelled, and the children return to their home.
The story wraps up with expected cliffhangers since it is the first of the trilogy. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the book or the stone. I didn’t fully understand why they were placed in the mountain other than to keep them safe, assuming the others seeking them don’t find the key or a way inside. I hope in the sequels we will learn more of these other realms and how they affect each other, and for that the stone is needed. The stone allows traveling across realms, but I still don’t know what the Book of Secrets is for.
Other questions left unanswered are Ren’s secret about their mother and Koa’s warning to Gabriel that there are people he should not be trusting because they aren’t what they seem.
As a whole, the prose is engaging and easy to understand. I love the dialogue. As I already mentioned the author did great with siblings. I enjoyed their banter, squabbles, and heartwarming moments. No long descriptions slow down the story, yet I felt that the world and characters are adequately described. The pacing is fast and a lot is happening, so you really have to pay attention. At times, I found myself momentarily confused because sometimes the characters would jump quickly from one scene to another and occasionally without even a scene break as a warning. But I was never so confused that I couldn’t easily follow the story.
Usually, I prefer standalones to series, but I enjoyed this first book and plan to finish the trilogy.