The Hidden Knife
By Carrie R. Wheadon,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Fantastic fantasy world, cool gargoyles, but rushed story.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers can compare the lore in this book around gargoyles, fairies, and kelpies with that of other fantasy tales. For starters, the fairies are not cute little Tinkerbells in this story -- they're tiny pests. Also, many of the ingredients gathered by Algernon to make poisons are actually toxic including Foxglove and Death Caps. The last name of the queen's chief poisoner, Nightshade, is also a poisonous plant.
Feelings are a necessary part of healing from loss and tragedy and the strongest feelings will lessen with time. Small ripples toward good can have a big impact in the long run. Small acts of love, loyalty, and justice can some day create great change. A reminder of why having friends is better than just having allies.
Positive Role Models
Vicky's desire to not feel hurt after her huge loss is understandable, but it gets in the way of real healing and of developing friendships that will help her heal. It also keeps her hyper-focused on seeking revenge. Still, she's brave, talented, and sticks up for others. Algernon is loyal to his father despite his distance and becomes a loyal, helpful friend.
Violence & Scariness
The death of a family with none of the violence described beyond a scream and finding them dead. They are heavily mourned. Sword fights and small injuries. A kelpie drags a man into the sea. Talk of how a boy is supposed to poison his father when he's old enough to take his job. Stories of the short lives of orphans who work as street thieves.
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One use of "dragon sh—" spelled like that.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Hidden Knife is a fantasy for readers about to phase into young adult books. The themes are a shade darker and more complex than books for 8- and 9-year-olds, especially at the midway point of the story. One of the main characters experiences a huge loss and she decides to magic away all her feelings with an elixir so she can focus on revenge. Readers can contemplate how this gets in the way of healing and friendship. For violence, people are found dead, there are a few sword fights that result in small injuries, and a kelpie drags a man into the sea. Gargoyles are helpful beings that watch over everyone and teach a lesson about how small ripples toward good can have a big impact in the long run.
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What's the Story?
In THE HIDDEN KNIFE, Vicky is trained by her mom in secret to wield a sword and produce magic wards. At age 12 she's become very skilled, but her mom, a former queen's guard, still doesn't want her to attend Corvus, a school for kids who will one day serve the queen as she did. When the queen asks, Kat refuses and knows that it puts her family in great danger. Algernon has no choice but to attend Corvus. His father is the queen's Chief Alchemist and he will take over one day -- the day he poisons his own father as part of his final exam. Algernon has one regular escape from his sad fate, however: trips to the Netherwhere, a world that gargoyles come from and a wise chimera resides. When tragedy strikes Vicky's household, she will need Algernon and his connection to the Netherwhere to save herself and the kingdom.
Is It Any Good?
This fantasy begins with such a delightful fairy tale feel but lacks careful, detailed storytelling to sustain it. When the gargoyle narrates at the beginning, explaining his entrance into a world of humans, it's poetic and intriguing. He decides to become the guardian of families and their offspring who are close to the queen and are in danger. We see danger coming as the reader and we meet some talented kids who will eventually face it together -- a stress on eventually. It takes Vicky and Algernon a long time to really meet and make it to school, and only after a tragedy that happens awkwardly and jarringly late in The Hidden Knife.
So many aspects of the second half of this story could have used the cushioning of careful details and slower scenes. It's hard to really see the school in your mind's eye with so few pages dedicated to describing it and how it's run. There's also no real buildup to meeting a teacher Vicky isn't supposed to trust, just "there he is, he's a bad dude, run for it." Trips to the Netherwhere also feel rushed, like you're seeing the world in a sketchbook with so many details missing. It cheats the reader out of a truly immersive experience. Once you meet the cool gargoyles, of course you want to know all about where they're from. They deserve a story as wise and careful as they are, and it's not this one.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the jarring deaths midway through The Hidden Knife. Were you expecting something that bad to happen? What makes it worse than having a loss at the beginning of the story?
Would you like to attend school with Vicky, Algernon, and Milan? How is Corvus very different from Hogwarts?
Would you read more about Vicky, Algernon, Merry, and Milan? What other stories do you think can be told from these worlds? Could the main character be a gargoyle next time?
- Author: Melissa Marr
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Ocean Creatures
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
- Publication date: June 1, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: June 29, 2021
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