The Squirrel Squire
Book 1, A Fantastic Tails Adventure - and the Tournament of Oaks
This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.
A small but brave squirrel. An annual tournament. And threats from a dark challenger.
Squire Puff faces many pressures as a squire, but searching for a missing knight isn’t supposed to be one of them. When things take a turn for the worse, can he face his fears and help avert disaster? If Puff can’t find the champion, he’s the only one left to fight.
If you like talking animals, epic sword fights and exciting adventures, then you’ll love The Squirrel Squire. Perfect for fans of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Redwall by Brian Jacques and The Green Ember by S.D. Smith, along with other fantasy series including The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
This is a little different from my normal speed. This is the first book I've reviewed on this blog that I could safely say is for all ages versus most of what I write about being a little more mature in rating. I ended up receiving this book as an advance reader copy in exchange for a review of the book. Since it was a quick read I figured I'd go on ahead and just crank out the review of the book.
The Squirrel Squire by Erik DeLeo details the tale of Puff the squirrel. A squire to Sir Pattercloud who serves as the current knight champion of House Grey. Every so often the three houses (House Grey, House Brown, and House Black) gather to see who is going to be charge by hosting a competition known as the Tournament of Oaks. Along the way Puff has to grow up to learn his upcoming place as a knight for House Grey while the scheming House Black plots behind the scenes to win the tournament and become the House in charge.
If I had to detail this book in one word it would be cute. Overall, for an all ages book this was a surprisingly entertaining and quick read (it being eighty-six pages helped a little). It's not a classic, but for what the book is, it's enjoyable. This book was inspired by Redwall and the Prydain Chronicles as the author attempts to write in the style of each as an homage to these stories. I haven't read either (something I'm aiming to fix), but I went and tried to read some excerpts of the different books and did some research of the novels in an attempt to gauge the difference between those books and this one. I'll talk about that part a little later on in this review.
DeLeo does a good job revealing the lore and pieces of this world little by little. The reader isn't just hammered with a giant info dump detailing every scrap of information over the history and characters of the families and area they inhabit. It's easily digestible allowing the reader to keep information over the characters and houses lined up with minimal effort. That being said, I really wish that we would have gotten a little more information over the world in general. There were some things that felt empty or were obviously set up for a sequel hook, like the Confined or what happened to House Red, to name a few amongst other things.
While I didn't expect all the big secrets to be revealed over the course of the first book, I left feeling like the world was a little more hollow than it needed to be. This brings me around to a second point. The novel has a tone of telling but not a lot of showing. For example, early on Puff states that he's distrustful of House Black, but until like three-quarters of the way through the book we aren't given a solid reason to really dislike that group. Before then, House Black had been mentioned like twice and those times were just confirmation that they were a thing that exists and that they'd be fighting in the tournament. When we finally meet Scratchclaw of House Black he's described as having mange and beings sorta gross and mean looking. Yet, we still don't have a real reason to start hating him until he employs some slightly underhanded tactics to advance to the final round. Even then, it came off as more sneaky than anything super malicious.
Despite this, the rest of the characters were somewhat interesting enough to hold my attention through this book. Puff is young, and doesn't quite grasp just how big of a deal it is to be a knight. He's more concerned about finding cherries and acorns to eat then he is on training and learning his knightly duties. He's unsure of himself in that he doesn't quite think he could be as good of a knight as his mentor and hero, Sir Pattercloud. His best friends are a hyperactive chipmunk named Nibs and a brown squirrel named Tinderbug. As a whole they're entertaining but still somewhat shallow characters. Please note, it's book one and book one was only eighty-six pages, I wasn't expecting Brandon Sanderson levels of characterization. Everyone seems to have one defining character trait and only that. There's not a lot of emotional depth to them, but I assume that will get fleshed out and explored in later books. They're not bad, there's just not a ton to them right now.
So, in my research over the two stories this book was inspired by, I noticed something a little concerning. Right now, this feels just like a Redwall carbon copy. Some small things might be different but on the whole, they're a little too similar for comfort. I can see hints of inspiration from the author that there could be something really cool here, but right now I'm having a hard time distinguishing between this work and other works exactly like it. Brian Jacques didn't reinvent the wheel by coming up with anthropomorphic animals, but he did lend his own vision and voice to it that made it ultimately stand out. I think this book would be a lot better if the writer stopped trying to homage these tales and just tried to create something that's definitively their own.
Despite this, I did have fun reading this story and I'm curious to see how the series progresses from here. If I had a child in elementary or early middle school that I regularly interacted with, I wouldn't be against buying this book and handing it to them to enjoy. There's still a fair amount of entertainment still to be had by this book overall and it's a quick read to curl up with someone for you both to enjoy.
Final Score: 8.0/10
I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.