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Betwixters: Once Upon a Time by Laura C. Cantu Review

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This book is not for grumpy adults like me. It was on the Sci Fi and Fantasy category though so I didn't mind having a go at it. Obviously, I made a terrible decision. I'm no longer a kid, I can't be awed by fairies (I know, it's faeries in here) unless they learn to shoot guns. I understand that this is a book for kids but still, the author could have written it better.

I may not be Ole Grum's age but nothing in this book excites me. I thought it was one of those middle grade books that will take me back in time to my childhood (like Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane) but I was just disappointed. I wasn't awed with anything, not scared by things that's supposed to give scares perhaps because the prose is lacking. The author was not descriptive enough. She was not able to put enough tension to instill fear.

Review of Betwixters: Once Upon a Time by Laura C Cantu
Title: Betwixters: Once Upon a Time
Author: Laura C. Cantu
Series: Betwixters #1, The Vathylite Realms #2
Date Published: June 1, 2017
Publisher: Winterwolf Press
Language: English
Genre: Sci Fi, Fantasy, Middle Grade
ISBN: 9780988585133
Edition: I got an eARC via Netgalley for an honest review
Size: 281

A mysterious forest near the cozy town of Herogate is more than what it seems. The Gnarled trees appear to breathe, gloomy storms follow you around, and prowling shadows come to life before your very eyes. The forest is guarded by a strange old man and creatures not of this world. Even the locals never set foot in the bewitched woodlands, and trespassers have a way of turning up dead.

When Noah Walters moves to town with his parents, his father makes Noah promise to never enter those woods; but fate has other plans.

Noah and his new best friends, Ethan and Skye, are chased into the woods by Grucker, a schoolyard bully, and their lives are changed forever. They are forced into the heart of the forest, where they discover a lost fairy who needs their help to find her way back home before it's too late.

Join Noah and his friends on an epic adventure as they race against time and plunge headfirst into the unknown. They are challenged with secrets to keep, a dangerous mission to accomplish, and a test of courage that will bring them face-to-face with magical creatures they thought only existed in fairy tales.

Review

The author could have used a bit of science even if this book falls in fantasy. Our tiny protagonist faerie Neevya catches super-sunbeams from Father Sun to feed bigger plants or seedling in need of some extra love and attention. Guess where Neevya inserts these super-sunbeams to? She massaged them into an old oak's tree roots. Since when did roots absorb sunlight? The leaves would have been more apt, right? Yes, we're in a magical land where magical things happen. But even so, Robert Jordan managed to be still logical in his The Wheel of Time series albeit not in a fairytale setting (but magical still).

That was the prologue and I thought I was going to suffer throughout the whole book but it turned out that I did not. Well, not by much... which was a stretch. When I was introduced to chapter one, that was when I enjoyed the book somewhat.

Enter Noah, Ethan and Skye: three misfits in school who fit perfectly together. They're all of various ethnicities: Noah's half Chinese and half American while Ethan and Skye are two Brits with the former having blonde hair and blue eyes and the latter with dark features. (Racial diversity is all the hype nowadays you know. But when it's overdone, it feels like a trope, a forced one on that.)

These three twelve-year olds were chased down by a classic bully in school and got cornered, leaving them no choice but to venture off into a forest with teeth, the Dark Woods, a dense forest infamous for missing people torn limb by limb. There, they chanced upon an unusual sight: a tiny faerie with yellow skin.

Each one has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Noah, who took his Agent dad's logical sense and his mom's diminutive stature. Ethan, a husky blonde with a cheery and sometimes up-to-no-good attitude. And then Skye, an imaginative and cheeky girl. They all go along well together in a quest to save the faerie's life by helping her find her way back home.

There was this classic tale of bullying in school involving nakedness. Instead of feeling pitiful for the main protagonist, I had a huge laugh. Somehow, the situation got me in a fit of laughter. I was never a bully, like the victim, I'm also a very tiny Asian.

It's always the case when I'm reading middle school books from English-speaking countries to have extreme bullies. Nonetheless, I'd always wonder why that is. Why are there such people who'd hurt others just because they're bigger? I've never witnessed or heard something like that from my own country. If there's any, that's some strange incident involving kids with physical aberration or mental illness. It's not like the bullies I read about have obvious mental illness. They have issues (family), sure, but I doubt the bullying is done by kids with severe mental disorder.

Rampart bullying in middle grade books is just too stale for my taste. One book does not seem to exist without one which just means that the issue is very real... especially in first-world countries. In poor countries, you have your own government bullying you to begin with that you can just put up with anything.

The very thing that put me off from this book instantly is the narration. The narration is so stoic and terse, I don't even get to feel anything for the main characters. I don't feel excitement for whatever is going to happen next. Reading further was just a struggle when you do nothing but keep a straight face with only your eyes moving. If only I could be emotionally moved, that would make a difference even if the book won't be able to make my heart race.

One good thing about this book was the text at the very beginning of the book, even before the prologue: the poem. It was mesmerizing. I thought the book will be a good read because of that but I just shook my head in the end.

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