Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review - The Orphanage of Miracles

Even though the high level premise felt similar to other books, The Orphanage of Miracles caught my attention with the subtle variety in the plot. The story takes place in an unknown medieval land where magic is real and an evil sorcerer has waged war against the people and king. Seems like a pretty mundane synopsis. The difference comes with the idea of the Orphanage of Miracles. Not much is told about this Orphanage other than that it exists as a mystical place somewhere in the land where miracles are somehow manufactured. I immediately thought of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, but after that imagery died down, I gave the book a chance. The book has two main stories working to meet one another.

A girl named Kelsey has left her home on a quest to find the Orphanage of Miracles. There’s a disaster in her home town and she’s determined to help if she can. She’s not thinking about the bigger picture of getting a miracle for the entire land as a way of ending the war. As she travels, Kelsey meets some interesting characters who both help and hinder her journey.

Meanwhile, a parallel story is presented. The reader finds out that the Orphanage DOES exist but something isn’t quite right. We follow the life of Nicholas, a young orphan inside the Orphanage. We learn that the orphans each assigned a different specific job or calling to perform. Nicholas and his friends have had bad luck trying to find their perfect calling but they are excited because their new prospect involves working directly with the creation and cultivation of Miracles. As Nicholas’s story progresses, it becomes very clear that there are major problems at the Orphanage. The entire Orphanage is shrouded in mystery both from the outside world and even to those living and working inside its walls.

As the story progressed, I saw a number of moral allegories presented. Some were more veiled than others. I think for the intended age range (grade schoolers, probably maxing out at middle school), the symbolism and suggestions may be subtle enough to be interesting ideas without being overt commentary on ethics or other moral issues. I personally found the messages to be refreshing in their veiled subtlety as a way of helping present some thoughtful ideals for children to digest.

There were a few times where I felt like the editing could have been tightened up again. The biggest problem I felt was that the mystery was perhaps a bit too obtuse which could lead to unnecessary confusion. There were a lot of elements that were left very vague or completely undefined. I saw this as a core plot device to keep even the nature of the mystery intentionally ambiguous. This became problematic during the last few chapters of the book when the revelations came flowing out with such rapidity as to be a little disorienting. Still, this imbalance was acceptable in light of the length and nature of the story.

I really enjoyed the light tone and writing of this book. The presentation of the story and the mystery were both compelling and easily accessible for young readers. I didn’t initially know that this was the first book in a series. The book ends with a nice conclusion that wraps up a lot of the core mysteries and issues with the story but it also opens up a compelling new plot that I’m genuinely interested in following up in the next book. Overall, this is a nice, light read with slightly deeper themes and ideas lingering just below the surface.

3 out of 5 stars

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