Open Wounds

Book Review: Return to Exile – E.J.Patten

Return to Exile (Hunter Chronicles)This book was given to me at BEA back at the end of May… for my son. He read it, loved it, and told me I had to read it. This is E.J.Patten’s debut novel and it is quite the rubix cube of a novel. It is also a lot of fun. My son is 9 and an advanced reader so my guess is this is an 11 and up book – though easily enjoyed by adults – all those who enjoyed Rick Riordan’s work and Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander books – though Patten’s book is for older readers – is more sophisticated in plot and in fright factors – will enjoy Patten’s work.

So who is this guy Patten? Take a look at his website for some interesting background on him and on this first book in his series – what is called The Hunter Chronicles.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Eleven years ago, a shattered band of ancient hunters captured an unimaginable evil and Phineas T. Pimiscule rescued his nephew, Sky, from the wreckage of that great battle. For eleven years, Sky Weathers has studied traps, puzzles, science, and the secret lore of the Hunters of Legend, believing it all a game. For eleven years, Sky and his family have hidden from dark enemies while, unbeknownst to Sky, his uncle Phineas sacrificed everything to protect them. For eleven years, Sky Weathers has known nothing of that day. But on the eve of Sky’s twelfth birthday and his family’s long-awaited return to Exile, everything changes. Phineas has disappeared, and Sky finds himself forced to confront the mysterious secrets he’s denied for so long: why did his family leave Exile on that day so long ago? What, exactly, has Phineas been preparing him for? And, the biggest mystery of all, who is Sky really and why does everyone want to kill him?!

What came to mind for me immediately as I began this book was how unique and different the world that Patten built is. It is part Lovecraft with dark, dark, frightening monsters who are shapeshifters and tentacled, and razor sharp toothed with mouths on their heads and caps to cover them – part Solomon Kane from Robert E. Howard (the author of Conan), and all bizarre. Man these monsters with names like Whisper, Gnomen, Wargarou, Shadow Wargs, are creepy and imaginative and scary and they surround the main character, Sky Weathers, who is likeable and always one step behind the plot which is one giant puzzle/trap. His mentor, Phineas T Pimiscule, is a wonderful creation and worthy of a book all by himself.  The theme of puzzles and traps is fascinating and one of the things that intrigued my son about the book and also intrigued me. I was constantly trying to figure out what would happen next and was always surprised by the shifting landscape and characters. This is a world of shapeshifters and darkness.

Check out the opening line – always a key element in book selection for me:

Phineas T. Pimiscule was not what you’d call an “attractive” man.

This is a line that begs you to read on.

And this is a book you must also pay attention to. Half the fun was trying to guess what the solutions to the puzzles were just as Sky was. I especially appreciated the world-building done by Patten – epic in scope, logical and consistent in tone, and thought-provoking. I enjoyed having characters that were evil and good, monsters that were sometimes both at the same time, and good guys who could also be bad. Sky’s world is not made of simple black and white.

Do I have complaints about the book? Patten’s use of simile was a bit much with less, for me as a reader, being more. But this is a small thing compared to the success of the larger scope of the book and the craft of world-building he has demonstrated. The ending is just beautiful. I won’t spoil it but I will tell you it reads like the perfect ending to a pulp serial – ominous, dark, and bookended by razor-sharp tooth and suction cupped tentacle.

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