Fork-Tongue Charmers: The Luck Uglies, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Fork-Tongue Charmers: The Luck Uglies, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Tween girl fights foes, evil in sweet, exciting sequel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will pick up oddly useful bits of knowledge, such as that running around for weeks in wet boots will give you a condition called "skunk foot" and that in many cultures a loud belch is considered a polite thank-you for dinner. 

Positive Messages

Family, friendship, forgiveness, courage, and loyalty all are good things -- as is creative thinking when things don't go as planned. Also: People are a lot more complicated than they seem at first.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bold heroine Riley loves her friends and family, and that's the driving force behind even some of her more ill-advised moves. Her mother and father share jokes about where she got her disrespect for authority but are courageous and loving in protecting their children. Many of the adult characters are affectionate mentors to the kids, who in turn are always there for one another -- often in the nick of time.

Violence & Scariness

The title characters are a band of outlaws who've mutilated their tongues by splitting them down the middle. The monsters known as the Bog Noblins are back, along with a number of other villains from the first volume, whose cruelty takes many forms: For example, Rye sees a woman forced to wear a grotesque metal mask in public because she spoke against the evil Earl, who also wants to arrest Rye's whole family. An event in the past, when the Earl heard about Folly's brothers being born conjoined twins and tried to take them away, probably to kill them, still stirs passions in the village 20 years later. There are scary moments galore, from brawls, swordplay, shipwrecks, and dark tunnels to villains (often wearing creepy masks) appearing at the worst possible moment. Kid characters are kidnapped, robbed by bandits, imprisoned on desert islands, and forced to reveal information that endangers their loved ones. An epic battle between villagers, soldiers, and Bog Noblins leaves the fate of several beloved characters in doubt. On a lighter note, characters eat a lot of gross food, from calf's-head soup (eyes and all) to raw sea urchins.

Language

Rye's favorite expletive is "pigshanks." There's a bit of bathroom humor, mostly involving animal and monster poop in inconvenient places. In the glossary, a group of characters is described as so dimwitted that they "tinkle in their own boots to keep their feet warm."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fork-Tongue Charmers, the second installment in the Luck Uglies series, features a world in which most of the positive characters are outlaws, the law is in the hands of evildoers, and magic is afoot. As the tween heroes make new discoveries about long-held secrets, they face many dangers: false allies; vicious monsters; well-armed soldiers; magic gone wrong; and whatever's lurking around the next corner of that dark tunnel. There are scary moments, some violence -- brawls, swordplay, shipwrecks, and kid characters kidnapped, robbed by bandits, and imprisoned on desert islands -- and age-appropriate versions of serious themes, such as the government trying to take children who are "different" away from their families to imprison or kill them and how the families keep their kids safe. Several beloved characters appear to perish in clashes with evildoers. But there also are plenty of sweet, poignant moments and lots of laughs (for example, Rye's struggles with "skunk foot" and Folly's potion that makes Rye's feet glow in the dark). Strong family values come through in a family with a deep disrespect for authority but a clear moral compass.

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What's the story?

Now 12, Riley (Rye) O'Chanter hardly has time to pull on her oversize boots before she's robbed and kidnapped by FORK-TONGUE CHARMERS, an outlaw gang whose members mutilate their tongues as a sign of belonging. She's rescued, only to return home and find that she, her mom, and her little sister all are wanted criminals, thanks to the evil Earl. At the Dead Fish, a disreputable tavern owned by her friend Folly's parents, she finds her mom and sister safe for the moment but the soldiers closing in. So Rye, along with mom Abby, little sis Lottie, and friends Folly and Quinn, are whisked off to the island of Pest, where Abby grew up and where Rye's dad "Harmless," High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies, is definitely not welcome. Family secrets and unexpected connections come to light en route to a bloody clash of soldiers, Luck Uglies, and monsters and a cliffhanger ending that sets up the next book.

Is it any good?

Both kids and adults will get a kick out of Rye, her friends, and her family as their characters develop and face new dangers. They stand up to the oppressive Earl and his minions, as well as traitors (and unexpected allies) within their own ranks. There are plenty of laughs (for example, Rye's struggles with "skunk foot" and Folly's potion that makes Rye's feet glow in the dark), along with serious issues: family estrangements, bullying, and governments that want to exterminate kids who are "different."

Besides the appealing, determined characters and their nonstop perils, one of the real charms of the Luck Uglies series is author Paul Durham's fine use of language -- for example, "Rye rejoined her friends, squinting at the horizon where Longchance's warships rocked offshore like patient wolves." 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullied kids and the kind of adults they grow up to be. How might things have been different here if Slinister had been treated better when he was young? Do you know any adults who were bullied as kids? How did the experience affect them?

  • How does Fork-tongue Charmers compare with other fantasy books you've read, including the first book in the Luck Uglies series? How do you like the mix of danger and humor?  

  • How would you feel if you suddenly met a whole lot of relatives you never knew existed?

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