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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Finnian's Fiddle by Chandler Groover

Title: Finnian's Fiddle
Author: Chandler Groover
Read Type: Indie review
Stars: StarStarStarStar

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can find out more about the author on Goodreads
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Dragons can often be obstinate, and when one dragon arrives at a rural seaport demanding to hear a child prodigy perform the violin, the townspeople must strategize. They send a boy named Finnian to the city to learn how to play.

Unfortunately for Finnian, the task isn’t so simple. Everyone from bandits to scheming aristocrats seem to stand in his way, and before his quest has ended, he will have to contend with a devious plot stretching into the fairy realm itself.

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

 I was given a free copy of the book by the author in return for an unbiased review

Strong language: None
Drugs: None
Violence: None
Sexual content: None

This book was written in several parts, each of which has its own feel and flow, so I will review it as such, with an overall review at the end.

The Overture – 5/5
This short, unusual beginning I found most charming, I was through the eyes of a dragon abut his life, or rather his life during his sleep and how he relives his memories. This is how he comes to terrorise a town and send a boy or an occasionally harrowing adventure

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Prologue: The Monster – 4.5/5
This section held a lovely whimsical tone. It reminded me of the original 1911 version of Peter and Wendy, the novel that started the Peter Pan universe. It was simultaneous holding that magical shimmering barrier over everyday life that the best children's books do but also had access and didn’t talk down to adults.

In this section the dragon arrives, demanding the fiddler who played for him in this village once before – no other fiddler will do. Yet nobody knows who this fiddler is and soon have to broker a deal or all become char grilled snacks. They are to send one boy off, from this village in the middle of the middle of nowhere, to the city to learn the violin and hopefully convince the dragon he is the same boy he once saw.

Finnian did not strike me in any way as a normal boy, probably the only way he would ever survive even the first day of this book! He likes to daydream, he sees fairies at one point (but hey, we have a dragon, who knows if these are real or not!) and seems generally disconnected from other children his age. His personality here came across a bit erratic, at one point manic, but by and large just very laid back, what will be will be.

During this section there are adults arguing endlessly, and while Finnian has the troubles, as well as excitement, of what he must undertake, what I really liked was he was a family boy who looked after his little sister first.

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Part I: The Road – 3.5/5
Hmm, we have an entire section devoted to the road, I'm sure this will be a smooth journey to the city!

It was clear from the outset that Finnian really had no idea how to travel, especially when it came to nights. I also suspect is teacher, who had supposedly taught the class geography, mainly to do with getting to the city, had either spent very little time showing him what to do, or more likely, never been herself and was just using what she'd read.

His trials went from bad to worse, yet at this point, despite his danger and potential death many times I felt a disconnect from the character. He didn't seem to worry that he had run out of food, even if he didn't know how little a way he had come. He went through trial that would make many panic, but he took it in his stride, even when he was taken up by a company and on the main road he never asked if he was heading towards or away from the city that was the only chance to save everybody he had ever met.

There was a lot of back and forth here, I wasn't a fan of a lot of it. I was glad however when he did at least seem to remember why he was travelling, even if it still felt like he relied on others to do everything for him without him asking.

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Part II: The City – 4/5
I felt this part largely went back to its whimsical roots from the prologue. Finnian is once again on his own for a bit, completely clueless and causing havoc. He seems to remember why he was on this quest in the first place at last, about time, but does little about it at first and doesn't really seem to care.

He soon finds himself in a strange predicament, at first I thought it would be an awkward relationship, but it rather reminded me of the relationship in The Magician's nephew with the old man. At this point I swung back and forth on my opinions of where the story was headed, I could see no feasible way out of what Finnian had gotten himself into without losing what little chance he had to save his village.

I love Finnian's nemesis in this part, he had just the right level of cockiness without seeming to ridicule himself. In a way I was happy to see this section end, especially when I saw the most curious way it would do so, as I was staring to tire of the more structured atmosphere, that was beginning to take the quintessential essence of daydreaming, anything-is-possible Finnian and put it in a box to forget under the stairs.

I think up to this point this was the part that left me with the most anticipation for the next one.

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Part III: The Forest – 4/5
Ok, I take that last part back, this was my favourite part. Once again we went back to confusion, uncertainty and weirdness that felt like the best parts of the previous sections had been plucked out and mashed together here.

Given the title of the section the fact that he travel should not come as a surprise to you… if it does, you sure will find a lot of them in this book! Or any book for that matter.

Once again he found himself in a caravan, and different people, a slightly different feel, but overall a sense of déjà vu and more in a morning than a creepy way. The reappearance of someone did catch my attention.

This part in itself, soon turns inside out and I found myself in the most bizarre of destinations to date – that's saying something considering what I went through to get there. At first this was frustrating with far too few answers coming forward as to what was going on. Finnian had once again remembered his violin for a few seconds, but seemed to forget it pretty quickly as an active thing to do himself… then again his attempts had been painful at times, even if the book didn't have volume.

When the veil of questions was revealed I was very happy to be where I was, one of my favourite destinations in general in novels. The scenery and variety was rich, but I felt Finnian was melting into it, whereas this was so different from his home that he should be gaping and shocked pretty much all of the time. I will allow some of this to his daydreamer nature filtering back in and letting him absorb what he had probably imagined most of his life, but I would have liked to have seen him study the world a bit more.

The banquet scene however… fantastic, possible the best thing I came across by a mile.

Too soon for my liking however, just as he began to take an interest, as well as try to get some attention about this piece of wood he carries around in a case (I'm beginning to struggle to call it a violin, as one would get played, even if cat-screechingly badly occasionally.

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Part IV: The Mountain – 5/5
This section was plain strange, but also interesting in a rather dark way. Clearly the big ending, all cards were laid on the table, all the obstacles the author had left were thrown on the path ahead. The imagery used was fantastic.

A bad dream? Death? Hell? The devil? A certain character's interference who keeps showing up throughout the book. All of these crossed my mind. I felt it was a suitable climax, but I cannot say much about what happened without giving too much away.

For a young boy I felt at times he acted too old for his age, even countering in the fact that he had travelled alone for the best part of a year and faced challenges at every turn.

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 "Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47" by Sibelius

Epilogue: The music – 5/5
And the end is here. I thought it was very fitting, considering everything that had happened and how Finnian had dealt with it though the year.

But what is fitting for a boy who intermittently forgets he has a fiddle, finds himself in various situations with no escape and travels through many worlds? Is it to have returned home and found the dragon gone? Is it to have the village turned into a barbecued snack? Is it for him to have learnt to play and appease the dragon? Is it for him to stay inland after seeing smoke rising from where his town once was? Or is it for the daydreamer to be brought out of his daydream with a call to eat tea?

The answer – well, you'll find that out when you go and buy the book!

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My Overview
Those were my reviews, written as I read each part, treating each part essentially as a standalone, leaving what passed before elsewhere. The book was charming, intriguing, had many changes as it went, and overall kept you on your toes.

However, it had one failing. Had you given me any of those parts as a stand alone novella I would have easily given them a 4, probably higher. But when you put them together there is a problem in that the theme, speed and style changes part to part, not to mentions Finnian himself, that I was repeatedly jarred around and never felt like I had sure footing. Sometimes this is good in a book, but for this example I tired of the rather sudden changes that were not remarked upon.

As a result of these issues I struggled to give it an overall rating because I didn't know whether the individual sections were more important that what followed each one. In the end I decided on 4 stars. I considered 3.5 stars, but then thought of how each section made me smile and realised I had answered my own question as to what was more important.

I wish the transitions had been a bit smoother so I could have rated higher. I hope in the author's future works this is the case.

Musical scores are as named above and in the public domain.
All other images are copyright of Chandler Grover and used with his permission.

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