When Aldwyn, a young alley cat on the run, ducks into a mysterious pet shop, he doesn't expect his life to change. But that's exactly what happens when Jack, a young wizard, picks Aldwyn to be his magical familiar.
Finally off the tough streets, Aldwyn thinks he's got it made. He just has to convince the other familiars--the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert--that he's the telekinetic cat he claims to be. But when Jack and two other wizards in training are captured by a terrible evil, it will take all of Aldwyn's street smarts, a few good friends, and a nose for adventure to save the day!
I picked up this book because a kid came into the library desperate for its sequel. He was bouncing with excitement about this story, so naturally, it became the next Bluestem nominee on my list to read. When I started The Familiars, I mentally groaned, because talking animals are not my favorite kind of book. Fortunately, Epstein and Jacobson totally changed my mind!
This is a nice switch of perspective. Readers of Harry Potter are familiar with the idea that wizards often have toads (Trevor!) or cats (Crookshanks!) as pets. The Familiars makes them the heroes and sets them in a wonderfully realized fantasy world. Honestly, the lowkey mentions of their fantastical world were my favorite parts, whether they were storm berries, lightning-made horses, or Scribius, the map-making pen. So clever!
Sorry to keep on with the Harry Potter references, but surely I'm not the only one to see echoes of the Golden Trio? Skylar the know-it-all bluejay who is dead useful but a bit annoying--Hermione in the early books. Gilbert the comic relief tree frog who is mostly stupid but sometimes comes through in a pinch--definitely Ron. And then we've got Aldwyn the cat, who is very resourceful, relies on street smarts more than intelligence, and constantly feels like he can't live up to others' expectations. Yup, that's Harry.
Are the similarities deliberate or unintentional? Like I care. I loved the Trio in Harry Potter, and I love the trio in The Familiars. Unlikely frienships that blossom in the face of danger and mutual dependency are always my favorite.
This is a great fun book that looks at the unseens side of magic--the animals!
Four out of five Hydras of Mukrete.
Release Date: June 2011
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM