In October 2010, I reviewed Tony DiTerlizzi’s wonderful sci-fi adventure, The Search for WondLa. It’s a book intended for middle-grade readers, but my wife and I absolutely loved it, and it was a long wait for the second volume. Well, I’m ecstatic to announce that it’s finally here.
A Hero for WondLa will be released this Tuesday, May 8, and it’s great. Now, if you haven’t read the original yet, stop here and check out my review of the first volume — this review will refer to things in the first book and I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it already. I will, however, keep spoilers about the second book to a minimum.
Simon & Schuster sent me a copy this week, and I had the wonderful opportunity to interview DiTerlizzi on Thursday — so I ended up staying up late Wednesday night to finish the book. I’ll have the interview posted sometime next week, but for now I’ll tell you a bit more about A Hero for WondLa.
NOTE: SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE AHEAD!
At the end of book one, Eva and Rovender have finally reached their destination — to find ancient ruins of a civilization long gone, and no living humans. Muthr is no longer in the picture, but neither is their pursuer, Besteel. But then a mysterious airship arrives, and a human boy steps out, announcing that he’s here to take Eva home.
Of course, Eva is overjoyed: her entire journey was in the hopes of finding others like herself, and to learn that there is an entire human city seems like a dream come true. But the young pilot, Hailey, seems a bit off. He’s not very nice to Eva, and seems to doubt her stories about everything that she’s been through. Nevertheless, she and Rovender board the airship to head to New Attica.
Once there, she begins to learn more about other humans: Cadmus Pryde is the mastermind behind New Attica, which is a utopian society filled with wonderful new technology all designed to make life as pleasant and care-free as possible. But not everyone loves it, and the more Eva learns about this human society the more she wonders if she really fits in.
The characters in A Hero for WondLa are deeper and more complex than in the first book. In the first volume, although Rovender is a little off-putting at first, he quickly becomes Eva’s guide and mentor; Besteel is immediately revealed to be a vicious hunter, and despite a few hints about his own past, for the most part he is a classic storybook villain. In the second book, though, the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” is a little more hazy. Near the beginning I figured that Hailey was just going to turn out to be a villain … but it wasn’t as simple as that. Some of the other characters that Eva encounters are also hard to predict: their motivations are layered and nuanced, and it makes for a more mature book.
There is still plenty of action and adventure, too, both within the city of New Attica and outside of it. Readers who followed along with Eva’s journey before will enjoy the way that she grows and evolves in this second part, and at the end of it all you’ll be eagerly anticipating the third book.
The illustrations, as in The Search for WondLa, are beautiful and each one could stand alone as a piece of art. DiTerlizzi went with a blue-toned theme this time, which ties into the plot in some places and contrasts with the greens that were present in the first book as Eva spent most of her time out in the wilds. The dustjacket for the hardcover is slick and glossy, unlike the rougher matte finish of the original; I’m not sure why that decision was made, though it does parallel the contrast between the high tech world of New Attica and the natural splendor of the Wandering Forest.
You can actually preview nearly all of the artwork on DiTerlizzi’s site — however, the illustrations will reveal bits of the plot so you may want to wait until you’re reading the book. In my last review I complained about the two-page illustration spreads at the beginning of each chapter, because they reveal something that happens later in that section. However, I’ve changed my opinion of that somewhat. My kids love getting a glimpse of the image and then trying to predict what’s going on, what will happen that leads to that image. And then when the scene actually takes place, we turn back and examine the picture again.
I will note that the language in A Hero for WondLa does get pretty complex in some places: descriptions of technology are sometimes beyond Eva’s understanding and may be beyond young readers’ comprehension as well. But it’s enough to give kids a general sense of what’s going on, and sometimes things are revealed in more detail later. There are a few scenes that are emotionally intense; I’m reading it now to my own daughters and I think they will enjoy the book, but it’s a pretty good idea to read ahead if you’re not sure your kids would be ready. There’s also one instance of “damn” in the book but aside from that no other strong language. (Rovender says “sheesa!” as a sort of curse, which Eva picks up, but I’m not sure where she would have learned stronger language herself, raised in the Sanctuary by Muthr.)
Overall, A Hero for WondLa lived up to my high expectations. Although I just finished reading the book, I’m already on my second pass through it, this time out loud to my kids. (We just finished the first book on Monday.) They’ve both been enjoying the story, and never want me to quit reading. If you’re looking for a wonderful sci-fi story with a strong girl protagonist, loads of crazy-looking creatures, and real emotional depth, this series is a great place to start.
Update: Oops! In my haste to get my review written (and the lack of sleep), I left out one of the features of the book: WondLa Vision. Like the first book, this one has a few Omnipod illustrations in certain places throughout the book. By going to the WondLa website, you can hold the book up to your webcam and it lets you play a little augmented reality game. The first book had a 3D pop-up map that appeared to come out of the book, but this one is more of an arcade game, letting you steer the airship Bijou across desert wastelands and through a rocky ravine. It’s a fun idea, but I might recommend using the print-and-play version so you can hold up a sheet of paper rather than the entire hardcover, which gets heavy after a while. The other tricky part is that, depending on your screen and webcam, you may not be able to see where you’re going because, well, there’s a book blocking your view.
Wired: A marvelous sequel to one of my favorite books; complex characters make for more thought-provoking storyline.
Tired: The place where you park an airship is a “hangar,” not a “hanger.” (The book uses both terms.)