Wildlore: the Accidental Apprentice, by Amanda Foody (March 30th 2021 by Margaret K. McElderry Books), is a particularly excellent middle grade fantasy for Pokemon fans, but is also a fun read for the rest of us!
When we first meet Barclay Thorne, he’s an apprentice mushroom farm in Dullshire. It’s a place that lives up to its name–after it was attached by a ferocious magical being, Gravaldor, when Barclay was little (his parents were killed during the mayhem), numerous rules were put into place to deter future deadly excitements. Magic, especially the magic of the Lore Keepers and the Beasts they control, is at the top of forbidden things. So when Barclay strays to far outside the town gathering mushrooms, meets a young Lore Keeper, Viola, and accidently acquires one of these beasts himself, he’s desperate to get rid of it.
The beast, a legendary Lufthound, is contained by a mark on Barclay’s arm; if he wanted to, he could summon it and its storm magic forth, or simply draw on the power of speed it gives him. He wants no part, though, in the world of Lore Keepers and their beasts–the death of his parents from that magic haunts him. But when the magic stirs in him despite himself, he must flee Dullshire for his life.
Fortunately Viola finds him, and leads him to a Lore Keeper stronghold far off in the woods. There he is plunged into a competition to become apprenticed to one of the greatest Lore Keepers of all, with the hope that by proving himself she can remove his mark and break the bond between him and his beast.
But gradually his heart, despite itself, warms to Root, as he calls the Lufthound. And gradually he learns that the Lore Keepers and beasts aren’t his enemy. Placing first in the competition becomes his goal, and with Viola and other new friends at his side, and the magic of his beast, it starts to seem possible. Unfortunately, there’s a really nasty and powerful Lore Keeper who wants Root to add to his own beast collection, and who has an even more disturbing agenda on top of that! Treachery, intrigue, and magical challenges fill the pages as Barclay starts questioning all his assumptions, and finally accepts that he and Root are not just a team, but a potential source of good for the folks of places like Dullshire.
So there are two great things about the book that will appeal lots to young readers. The magic of the beast is very Pokémon-esque; the competitions were exhilarating and the range of beast and their magic fascinating. The second is the relationship between Barclay and Root, and how Barclay changes his mind, in large part because of Root’s intelligence and personality, about the Lore Keepers. Add to that fun supporting characters like Viola and her small dragon beast, and the result is a book with tons of kid appeal!
I myself, a cynical adult reader, was put off at first by “Dullshire” which I found utterly unsubtle. But once into the world of the Lore Keepers, I was hooked (it helped that Barclay isn’t just a simple mushroom gatherer–he really likes to read and learn! and indeed being a mushroom gatherer requires many of the same traits that make for a successful Lore Keeper–keenness of observation, patience, and a tolerance for risk). I raced to the book’s finish, and now want more!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher