Wednesday, April 6, 2022

YA Review of Herrick's End (The Neath #1) by T.M. Blanchet

Herricks End by T.M. Blanchet
Format: Print ARC
Publisher:  Tiny Fox Press LLC
Number of pages:  312
Publishing:  May 10th, 2022
Source: Author via giveaway at YA Books Central

The very first thing that grabbed at me about this book was the cover (which Damonza designed).  Instantly I'm thinking of King Ludwig II from Bavaria and how he built a castle with an underground stalactite cave and lake as a secret hideaway so he could be rowed around on his golden swan boat and listen to Wagner.  The other thing that intrigued me about the cover was the silhouette of the city at the bottom.  

 Opening Lines:  "The horses kicked up clouds of dust as they traveled the narrow dirt road, dragging the cart behind them."

Herricks End begins with a prologue set in May of 1692 and then quickly jumps ahead to present day Boston where we're introduced to 19-year-old Ollie Delgato.  Ollie has been on his own since his mom died and while he's been trying to recover from losing her, he's been attending a weekly Lighter Tomorrow support group to help with weight loss and his loneliness.  The group is where he met his one and only friend, Nell.  Well at least he thinks they're friends, but lately Nell has been missing from the meetings and he's worried something may have happened to her.  Then Ollie receives a cryptic message asking if he's "still looking for his friend?" and that they know where she is.  Hoping for answers, Ollie goes to the park as instructed and meets Laszlo, an acrobat.  Laszlo says that he will help Ollie and gives him a series of confusing steps to follow involving finding a lock or key, a door, the docks and a driver, but most importantly to follow the Freedom Trial.  Eventually, Ollie unravels the clues and finds himself deep within a tunnel leading down to Neath, hopeful to find his friend Ollie ventures on, but what he finds is more dangerous than he ever could've imagined.

I love how the author describes this book as a "wacky, witchy, revenge-soaked fantasy story set in an underground world below the streets of Boston."   I'd add that it's dark and certainly dangerous.   I really loved the early descriptions of the North End of Boston.  The lush descriptions of city life, the Anise cookies, Pizzaria's and feel of little Italy.  You really get a sense of what life for Ollie is like, making it easy to connect with his struggles over his mom's death, feelings of inferiority, his self-image and weight insecurity issues.  It's hard not to emphasize with his internal self-deprecating talk and I found myself hoping things would look up for him.   We learn about his early upbringing and how he met Nell.  Ollie seems like a good kid, aware of some of the changes that were occurring before Nell disappeared, like her personality, clothing and the mysterious new guy in her life.  While they didn't have the kind of relationship where she confided in him about the guys she was dating, he was aware enough to know that something might be wrong.  While he suspected that she might be in an abusive relationship, he still felt guilty for never having acted on his suspicions.  Ollie's actions during the story are guided by his feelings for Nell and for not having stood up or helped her before.

Unfortunately for Ollie, there's a few things about Neath that Laszlo neglected to tell him.  For one, Neath houses a huge prison where the prisoners experience suffering equal to their past crimes, they're sentenced with "only what they owe."  When Ollie is mistaken as an abuser and thrown into the prison, he's no longer the hero that he wanted to be, instead he's the one that needs saving.  The prison in Neath is a pretty dark place and is meant as a revenge toward abusers.  The rest of Neath is a sanctuary for those who chose to leave their former abusers and stay in Neath rather than seek revenge.  The story does not directly detail violence toward women, but it's pretty clear that the prison was designed to house these violent abusers and there are violent fights setup by the warden depicted.  It's also a difficult story because of the topic matter, and there's even a few prisoners who are unjustly jailed, and in Ollie's case he's jailed for being a bystander.  While the world of Neath is dark, compared to the earlier parts of Boston, there's still a sense of friendship with everyone that Ollie connects with.  Ollie draws people to him and is very protective of the people he meets.  And despite his initial need for rescue, he does go on to be a hero himself.  Overall, I quite enjoyed reading Herrick's End, it's a dark fantasy with an equally dark underworld, but I found myself engaged and vested in finding out whether Ollie would escape the prison.   

Favorite quote:  "In a world full of dandelions Ollie Delgato, you're a sunflower.  Big, and bright and always looking for light."

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