cover comparison

Wild Born: First Impressions

I’m no stranger to recapping children’s fantasy book series. Hell, I spent two or so years recapping Avalon: Web of Magic. However, I’m a big fan of Avalon; I considered the recap project a labor of love. This is the first time I’m recapping something I have mixed-to-negative feelings about.

Spirit Animals is a multi-author series: each book is written by a different author. Multiple authors means a faster publication schedule, meaning I’ll hopefully get through these recaps in a year (barring delays due to grad school and boredom). However, this also means the writing quality and characterization will be inconsistent between the books. And I’m probably not going to shut up about it throughout this recap.

Anyway, let’s get down to my actual first impressions on this series:

So I first heard about Spirit Animals through some press release about Avalon and multi-platform publishing. A book about kids bonding with magical animals to save the world sounded pretty cool.

Months later, I downloaded a copy of the first book … and I was rather disappointed. You can search through my old posts for my rants if you wish. I’ll probably be making and expanding on a lot of the same points in my recap.

Wild Born is the first book, and it follows a rather simple formula:

  • Kids from all corners of the world bond with Super Special magical animals.
  • Kids are recruited by an organization to collect McGuffins to save the world.
  • A secondary character who will only be relevant to this particular book is introduced.
  • A party is gathered and ventures forth to collect the first McGuffin.
  • Secondary character gets development (usually).
  • Big fight scene between two rival organizations.
  • Someone gets the McGuffin.

This formula (minus the introduction stuff) is repeated in all subsequent books — which makes things rather predictable and boring for me. So expect me to basically gloss over certain stuff later on.

Wild Born is written by Brandon Mull, who also wrote Fablehaven, which I hear is a popular children’s book series. I’m not a fan of his writing — I tried reading Fablehaven and his writing style irritated me after two chapters. This book hasn’t changed my opinion of him in the slightest.

Wild Born coverOn to the cover! Nothing really impressive here. There’s a party of four kids of various ethnicities, four animals, and a vague mountain background. Kinda meh. Sorry, no foreign / international covers — as far as I know, this book hasn’t been translated or released in other countries.

Here’s what to expect from my recap:

  • Me comparing everything in this fantasy world to their real-life counterparts!
  • Lots of pictures of wildlife!
  • No witty recap titles! (Why? Because the chapters are actually titled in this series.)


Next time: A protagonist deals with his jerk-ass boss. A fateful event occurs.


The Shadow Cats: First Impressions

I’ve noticed a trend with YA books recently: almost every series has at least one novella or short story that is either a prequel or a part of the narrative told from another point of view. I’m not a fan of the trend – why not just put all this stuff in the main series to begin with? (Oh, wait – it’s probably because most YA is written in first person.) Seriously, this is just a sneaky way to make me pay for more books.

Anyway, Fire and Thorns has three prequel novellas, each focusing on what happens to a different side character before the events of the series. This first prequel mostly focuses on Alodia, Elisa’s sister, but it also serves to explain why Elisa was married off to Alejandro. The book also introduces a minor character that doesn’t appear in the main series until the final book. So if you didn’t read this book – like I did when I first ran through the series – you’ll probably go “who the hell is this?” about three-quarters through the last book when said character is introduced.

The Shadow Cats cover

Not much of a cover comparison here, since this book was an electronic release and wasn’t translated into any other languages. All we get is this lovely American cover, which proudly shows a starry sky, lots of thorny plants, and a large blue jewel. Hmm, maybe the titular shadow cat is actually Kitty Pride, and she hasn’t phased through the cover yet.

What to expect from this book:

  • More hints about my crazy theories on the setting!
  • More complaints about the lack of a world map!
  • More translation fun!


Next time: a very short prologue that explains absolutely nothing.


Credit where it’s due: cover image is from Goodreads.

Full Circle: First Impressions

At last! After two years, we finally make it to the end of the series! Full Circle, the book in which the party completes their quest, saves the Magic Web, finds Avalon, learns everything about the Original Party, and defeats the bad guys once and for all! Hooray!

… Or is it? The last book ended with our heroes reaching the Gates of Avalon, but the Dark Sorceress crashed the party, pulled a “Great job! You did everything for me!” and entered Avalon. Oh, and Emily dual-classed to a dark mage and killed Ozzie, who by this point has proven to be the most rational character in the entire party. So how is the party going to enter Avalon and save everyone from magic-eating shadow creatures?

For those of you looking for Jewel Riders references, you’re not going to find many in this book. I guess there are similarities to “Full Circle”: Kale managed to obtain all the Crown Jewels and took over Avalon, and the Jewel Riders figured out how to defeat her against all odds. Also, the way the Jewel Riders recharge their Enchanted Jewels in that episode is similar to how the party defeats the final boss in this book.

Original CoverAnd it’s our very last cover comparison! Boy, am I going to miss doing this. Anyway, on the never-released original cover, we see the party looking into a well (the Well of Tears, in case you were wondering). If you look around the rim of the well, you can see the party’s Sparkly Rocks, along with what may be a Moonstone and Sunstone. Perhaps Avalon is a post-apocalyptic sequel to Jewel Riders? Who knows, but it’s a crazy theory. Also, note the image in the well itself: it’s the original cover to the first book! I get it, the story has gone “full circle”.

New Edition CoverThe new edition cover doesn’t look much different, but it makes it very clear that Avalon is a nuked-out ruin of what it once was. The party is dressed in the same outfits from the first book — though Kara is wearing something different, as expected. Nobody in the party has their Sparkly Rocks equipped, but Adriane and Kara don’t seem to mind. Emily, however, seems apprehensive about something. Does the party have to give up their jewels in order to complete their quest? I guess we’ll find out.

What to expect from this book:

  • A final boss battle!
  • Game-breaking endgame abilities!
  • Amazing Technicolor Battlefields!
  • New bonded animals!
  • More information on the Original Party!
  • Lots of clips of boss battles from other video games!
  • Way too many references to Mass Effect! (Hey, I was playing it when I was taking notes.)
  • An ending!

Next time: There is no Emily, only Zuul.

Dark Mage: First Impressions

Today we head into uncharted territory: Dark Mage is the first book that wasn’t published during the series’ original run. So you don’t have to see any more comparisons between the original and new editions ever again! But you’re still gonna get cover comparisons, since covers for the original editions were made.

I almost gave up on getting a copy of Dark Mage: I made a pre-order at Borders months before it was going to be originally released, but it obviously never arrived at the store. For months I heard that the book was delayed, and then I discovered that the publisher suddenly went out of business without releasing the rest of the series.

So I kinda forgot about Avalon for a while, and just pretended that it ended exactly like Jewel Riders did: with a massive battle for the Power Crystals in Avalon. Imagine my surprise, then, five years later, when I walk into Borders and find the series reprinted and revised, with promises of a definite release of Dark Mage and Full Circle. Finding the revised editions inspired me to re-purchase the entire series and start this blog.

In case you haven’t figured it out already, Dark Mage is the inter-party conflict book. You can tell because the title is the name of a character class. And, as made obvious by the cover blurb, one of our party members will become the titular dark mage — but who will it be?

Dark Mage original coverWell, if we go by the original cover, it’s probably Adriane or Kara. The two are confronting one another, there’s the obvious yin-yang imagery, and Adriane looks scared about something. But what’s that look on Kara’s face? She just looks kinda blank, instead of — I don’t know — obviously mind-controlled or something. Hell, she’s even looking at some point beyond Adriane, which is pretty much par for the course with these original covers. Also, Adriane’s Wolf Stone looks exactly how it does in Warlock Diaries, and a little too big to go on that bracelet she’s wearing. If Jewel Riders was a live action show, I’d bet the Enchanted Jewels would be just that size.

Dark Mage new coverThe new edition cover suggests something worse: everyone in the party becomes a dark mage! The obviously sinister expressions, the pimped-out outfits, and that forbidding gate to the Very Definitely Final Dungeon are total give-aways. And are those evil-looking glowing eyes staring out from the portal? Oh crap — what if Avalon isn’t what the party expected? And also: Where’s Ozzie? His absence seems rather conspicuous….

I’m not going to do my usual “what to expect from this book” section, since I want to keep most of this book a surprise. So instead, let’s pretend that most of us haven’t read Dark Mage (or the TV Tropes page) and predict who the dark mage will be:

  • Kara: She’s had difficulty controlling her magic, and the party’s pissed at her for helping Zach cast Time Stop in Heart of Avalon. And she’s already experienced a bad future in which she’s conquered the Magic Web and defeated the rest of the party.
  • Adriane: Obviously the strongest party member, but she hasn’t been confronted with the potential dark side of her powers yet. The Dark Sorceress hinted that her anger can be turned to hate, so maybe that will be touched on in this book?
  • Emily: She just went through that tutorial trap in Heart of Avalon, and it’s been hinted that she has the same magic-weaving powers as the Spider Witch. Maybe she’ll start using her mind control and magic-weaving powers in less-friendly ways?
  • Ozzie: He’s totally useless, so having him become the dark mage would be surprising.
  • Zach: It was revealed in Heart of Avalon that his family dabbled in the dark arts. Perhaps he’ll start exploiting Time Stop for evil?
  • The entire party: For a totally depressing ending. None of them can resist the dark side, and they all eff up their quest.
  • Nobody: Miraculously, all party members resist the impulse to use dark magic, and none of them become a dark mage. Also, covers always lie.

Post your predictions (or prior predictions, if you’ve already read the entire series) in the comments.

Next time: Kara goes shopping.

The Warlock Diaries: First Impressions

I admit to being really excited when Avalon: The Warlock Diaries was released. It was the first new Avalon story outside of the main series, and it came with a new short story (“Legend of the LAOA”). The whole English-language manga format, though … I was kinda hesitant about it. Maybe it was because I don’t like the make-everything-look-like-manga trend.

At least the story is pretty decent, even if the party kinda seems out of character. And by out of character, I don’t mean like Adriane suddenly became a girly-girl and Emily grew a pair. In this case, I mean that the party is still working together as a unit like they did for three-quarters of the series. Semi-spoiler: in Dark Mage, you discover that the party hasn’t hung out together for almost a month because everyone’s still pissed at Kara for amplifying Zach’s spells without his permission. So how exactly do they settle their differences long enough for this adventure to happen?

It’s kinda hard to figure out Jewel Riders references for this story. The entire second part is essentially “Love Struck”, since the new token male party member accidentally gets most of the girls to fall in love with him. And there’s an image of Avalon in the third part, and it looks exactly like the Crystal Palace. I’d appreciate some help figuring out connections here.

As for covers, well … I use the covers from the initial release of Warlock Diaries as the banner image on my site. I’m not a fan of the artwork, though, because it looks too generic-manga for my tastes. And I think that the artist has no idea how to draw Lyra or Dreamer. The omnibus edition of Warlock Diaries looks a lot better, though. But I guess that’s because Allison Strom did this cover, and I like the work she’s done for the series so far. She even has this little entry showing other prototype cover designs for the omnibus, which is an interesting read.

What to expect in this book:

  • A new token male party member!
  • Kara trying her hardest to get a date!
  • Lots of Magic Missiles!
  • More thinking with portals!
  • A new Be*Tween song!

Next time: Part 1, in which a Token Male Character joins the party.

Credit where it’s due: all images from the official Avalon site.