Return to Exile: The Hunter Chronicles, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Return to Exile: The Hunter Chronicles, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Monster-hunter series too complex for younger fantasy fans.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Chemistry plays a big role in the story -- can't say that too often. Kids can find out more about Boron and how it affects plants. And don't forget to look up the alchemist Hennig Brand, who really did use his own urine to make phosphorus. There are also tidbits about the Dewey Decimal System, the best way to build traps, and the solving of word puzzles.

Positive Messages

Uncle Phineas' biggest piece of wisdom to pass on: "Power without understanding and self-mastery will always cost your humanity. Understanding must come first. ...There is no compassion without understanding. And power without compassion is the worst kind of evil there is." There are also examples of bravery, resourcefulness (it's amazing what can be built out of trash), and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sky is a bit impulsive (somewhat thanks to his "little monster") and puts finding his uncle above parental and school rules. He also believes that not all monsters are bad and risks his life to convince his new monster-hunter friends of this. The other young monster hunters are incredibly resourceful and bright -- Andrew even sets up a whole chemistry lab in their hideout. Hands, though, is known for his sticky fingers and often steals from his father's store.

Violence

The scare factor on the monsters is somewhat high (a monster glossary in the back describes them). Kids and adults are attacked and shoot at the monsters with guns and an assortment of homemade weapons -- some serious injuries, not a lot of gore, but the action sequences go on for many pages. Children go missing in the town of Exile and are thought dead and some parents are missing, kidnapped, or thought dead or about to die at the hands of monsters. Sky is beaten up by bullies. Sky's scar on his hand often bleeds dark blood. A house burns down.

Sex

Some talk of dating, and Sky has a crush on Crystal.

Language
Consumerism

Cheez Whiz mentioned numerous times, plus Rubik's Cube and Cadillac.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Return to Exile is the first book in The Hunter Chronicles, a dense fantasy series stamped with the ages 8-12 range by the publisher, but 10 and up may be a better fit. The 500-page length may be daunting for kids just getting into fantasy (and the huge cast of characters and many subplots contained therein). Then there are the scary monsters and all the action sequences with kids in danger and attacking them. Some are seriously injured or thought dead, including young children. (For kids easily frightened, head to the monster glossary in the back of the book for an idea of the scare factor.) The young monster hunters are incredibly resourceful, making their weapons out of junkyard finds. And Andrew is a budding chemist, leading to some intriguing chemistry lessons.

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What's the story?

Sky and his family have moved more times than he can remember, and for reasons his parents never really explain. Now on his 12th birthday they're off again -- back to a town called Exile, where Sky was born but doesn't remember. The one thing he's excited about is to finally live near his Uncle Phineas, a mysteriously monocled and wise man who's taught Sky all he knows about constructing traps and solving word puzzles, and is responsible for Sky's massive library of monster lore. Sky thinks he's too big for all those monster tales at 12, that is until he reaches Exile and his uncle is no where to be found. On the hunt for Phineas, he learns that Exile is teaming with monsters -- real ones -- monster hunters, and so many shape shifters that no one is really who they seem, not the high school bullies, the sheriff, his meaner than mean teacher Mrs. Hagfish, or even Uncle Phineas. And Sky's RETURN TO EXILE is no happy accident, either. It's the hunter's moon and one of the worst monsters to ever walk the Earth will break out of his prison. It's up to Sky and his new monster-hunter friends to figure out how to contain it with just a few clues Phineas left behind.

Is it any good?

There are so many things to like about Return to Exile. There's the humor (just in the names of all the monster lore books alone), the curious and strange monsters themselves, the resourceful junior monster hunters who armor themselves spectacularly with junkyard finds ... But as one intriguing idea piles on top of another, suddenly it's too much. And then it's way too much. There are just too many characters in play (and with all the shape shifters, way more than it's possible to keep straight). And there are subplots -- so many of them that it's hard to keep focused on defeating the big monster in the end.

Also lacking is a real sense of wonder for what Sky has discovered: real monsters, and that he's not alone in his own body, of all places. Wild. This is  what will captivate and hold readers as they grapple with understanding a new fantasy world, but it gets lost in too many characters and too many details with not enough focus on the heart of the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fantasy novels and what makes a good one. With so many characters and monsters to keep track of, how do you keep them all straight? Does the glossary help?

  • The young monster hunters are incredibly resourceful, making their weapons and armor out of junk. Have you ever made anything useful out of discarded items? Could you fight monsters with it?

  • Look up the alchemist Hennig Brand in the encyclopedia or on Google. Why do you think Andrew admires him so much? Do you have any interesting heroes?

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