By Awnali Mills
Gabriel Finley’s father has vanished without a trace. Now in the care of his aunt, Gabriel is frustrated and frightened by the mysteries that keep piling up. Then, he rescues a raven chick and when he discovers that it can talk to him everything changes.
Gabriel learns that he is an amicus—someone who can bond with a raven. Now, aided by his raven Paladin, next door neighbor Abby, and houseguest Pamela, he must race his evil Uncle Corax to the torc, a necklace that grants any wish. To do so, he must discover the entrance to Aviopolis, the underground city of birds. Along the way he is surrounded by birds who either help or hinder him. And everywhere are the valravens, birds who look like ravens, but who have eaten the flesh of their best friends and are now cursed with immortality.
Threaded throughout Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle are, naturally, riddles. Ravens use them to identify each other, because riddles make them laugh, but valravens have no sense of humor. Riddles are used as clues to provide guidance, and as tests that must be passed. I was a bit uncomfortable with the riddles to start with (I’ve never really liked them), but must confess that reading them so regularly, and trying to figure them out because they’re like mini-mysteries, changed my feelings about them. As I became accustomed to thinking about them, and reading how the children worked their way through the riddle to the correct answers, I began to really enjoy them. As Hagen writes,
“Riddles were like locks to Gabriel. He liked to pry them open and figure out what made them work. He liked the tricky ones that forced you to think about double meanings in words…but he also liked riddles that stretched your imagination.”
I don’t plan on tossing riddles out to my co-workers any time soon, but I now enjoy solving them.
Suitable for grades 5-8, Harry Potter fans may enjoy these books, as well as any kid who enjoys mysteries, riddles, fantasy, or adventure. While the main character, Gabriel, is male, there are also two fairly strong female characters, making this book universally appealing. Hagen left a bit of a hanging ending, so I expect there to be a sequel as well.