Warriors of the Black Shroud
Walker is the kind of kid most people would never notice. This is just fine with him; most of the time, when he does get noticed, it's by a bully who's making fun of the birthmark on his face. Walker doesn't have many (okay, any) friends, and that's the way he likes it.
That is, until the unexpected arrival of two new acquaintances turns Walker's whole world on its head. First there's Eddie, a so-called prince from the kingdom of Nebula, which lies far beneath the earth. He's been searching the Outerworld high and low for a Chosen One, who bears the mark that indicates he's worthy to hold the most sacred secrets of Nebula's people and become their leader. Walker thinks he's crazy, until Eddie whisks Walker away to Nebula and shows him this mysterious land firsthand.
Walker's second new acquaintance is Frankie, a new girl from Boston who likes to talk even more than Walker likes to stay quiet. She's not about to let Walker have all the adventures without her, so soon enough she's accompanying him on his quests to Nebula and even showing that she has her own part to play in its destiny.
The land that Peter Howe imagines in WARRIORS OF THE BLACK SHROUD is an inventive one, full of subtle riffs on common fantasy themes and characters. The world's mythology might come up short when compared with Gregor the Overlander, with which this book shares a number of similarities. But it also holds plenty of charms of its own, primarily the interesting dynamic that develops among Walker, Frankie, and (most intriguingly) Eddie, who, in many ways, is the most vulnerable character in the end. The dialogue is lively and often very funny, and the plot moves as quickly as a galloping unicorn, even if things get off to a bit of a bumpy start in Howe's in media res opening.
WARRIORS OF THE BLACK SHROUD could stand alone, although it's likely that readers engaged with this likable trio and fantastical world will want to revisit them in future volumes.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 31, 2012