Henry H. Neff, The Tapestry (2007-2014)

A few months ago I was looking, quite consciously, for good Harry Potter clones, or school-of-magic series in general. I’m brave enough to admit I loved The Magicians by Grossman (season two of the tv series is still good, by the way!), dubbed Potter for adults, but this time I’m back to children-oriented books. Or… middle grim-grade? I once showed Coraline to my then-three-year-old niece (sort-of by accident, long story, sorry Madzia, the most important thing is there was no lasting psychological damage 😉 ), but I won’t be reading her this one any time soon.

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Max McDaniels lives a quiet life in the suburbs of Chicago, until the day he stumbles upon a mysterious Celtic tapestry. Many strange people are interested in Max and his tapestry. His discovery leads him to Rowan Academy, a secret school where great things await him.

Does not sound very original? And it isn’t, at first. Then it gets less derivative, and quite good. The five book long saga gives us likeable protagonists and develops their stories coherently up to a very satisfying ending. Seriously, there are many imperfections, and sometimes it felt rather dull, it definitely could be a book shorter in my opinion, but the ending itself made it worth my time. Melancholic, happy, but hard-earned. Even a bit tolkienesque, toutes proportions gardées.

It was not an easy journey to get there, not for our heroes and not always for the readers.

School is pretty stereotypical, humour decent, but well-suited for readers rather younger than yours truly, what kept me reading was a nice vision of magic vs technology and ruthlessness I did not expect from a YA series. Potter books might be getting grim in later volumes, but not that genocidal. And believe me, muggles have it better with Voldemort at large than under Astaroth’s rule. I’m not talking about graphic descriptions of violence, there are kept PG(13?), but the statistics, sheer scale of the massacres, and depths of despair reader witnesses…

I’ve been through the Red Wedding, sack of Gondolin and a few other tragedies, but what happens here is more tragic that one would expect from a book designed for children. There are just so many defeats, the few victories scarce and expensive. After all the bad stuff you just wish for anything good to happen. And than it does, but the cost make you think maybe it wasn’t worth it.

It’s great, maybe the best part. Easy happy-ends always annoyed me as a young reader. Also good – ambiguity of most of the characters. The antagonists are not simply evil, the heroes can be blamed for quite a few blunders. Once we get past generic lessons in generic school, with bullies, clueless teachers and so on, we have quite a creative alternative Earth with daemons, Celtic gods and treacherous engineers.

And the illustrations are cool, drawn by the author himself.

Perfect target audience? Someone who already read Rowling, is too smart for Meyer, but a bit too young for Abercrombie 😉

Series could use a human female protagonist to accompany our Max and his nerdy friend David, Max’s girlfriend is rather ignored and he has to go beyond Earth to find his equal.

I have mixed feelings about The Tapestry. I certainly enjoyed it, but I would not recommend it to everybody. There are things to admire, and things to skip. Most of the volumes, I listened to, during chores and commuting. Would they keep my attention during more precious time I dedicate to proper hardbacks? I’m not sure. But there were moments that vindicated all the time spent on Neff’s series.

Final score: 7/10

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