Monday, February 27, 2012

The Blackhope Enigma Book Review

Author: Teresa Flavin. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Templar. ISBN: 9780763656941.
Annotation: After her stepbrother mysteriously vanishes while walking through a labyrinth in Blackhope Tower, fourteen-year-old Sunni and her classmate Blaise follow him into an enchanted Renaissance-era painting that has been shrouded in mystery for centuries.
Personal thoughts: The idea of people entering enchanted paintings is something I relish, and I found this story to be, in a word, delightful. Although the characters left just a tiny bit to be desired in terms of development, I really enjoyed venturing into the world that Teresa Flavin created. The concept of the layered worlds in the painting was really intriguing, and I loved seeing how the story played out as the characters got further into the painting. I’m looking forward to reading The Crimson Shard and hope that it can live up to what The Blackhope Enigma accomplishes.
Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest and her classmate Blaise Doran are both studying famous Renaissance artist Fausto Corvo for a project at their English school. Sunni enjoyed getting top marks in her class for her artistic skills, that is until Blaise blew in from America and wowed everyone with his intricate drawings. One afternoon while studying a painting called The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia housed in the chambers of the neighboring Blackhope Tower, Sunni’s tag-along twelve-year-old stepbrother, Dean, suddenly vanishes while walking through a labyrinth set up in front of the painting. Sunni and Blaise are shocked when they realize that Dean has been transported into the painting, spotting his out-of-place figure amongst the Renaissance inhabitants of Corvo’s work. Determined to rescue Dean, Sunni follows him into the painting. When neither Sunni nor Dean reappear from The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, Blaise decides to enter the work himself the following day, feeling partially responsible for their vanishing into the painting. What Sunni, Dean and Blaise discover is an intricate series of worlds layered upon top of one another in the painting. Each realm is beautiful, but dangerous, allowing visitors to move forward from land to land, but not in reverse. The trio soon realizes that the only way out of the painting is to continue on into the unknown, but will they survive what lies ahead long enough to return home?
Review:  Harkening to the traditions of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Blackhope Enigma, first in a series of novels for young adults by illustrator turned author, Teresa Flavin, brings a fresh, original, and enthralling tale that easily appeals to fantasy fans of all ages. The novel cuts right to the chase, immediately beginning Sunni, Dean and Blaise’s adventure from almost the first pages. The concept of the layered painting and various worlds that the trio experience is not only unique, but very entertaining. Readers will delight in finding out “what comes next” in The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, with each layer adding more and more to the story. The inclusion of art history in the novel, from discussions of various painting techniques to a look at the society of the Renaissance, adds an element to The Blackhope Enigma that will appeal to educators who might want to spark an interest in this era. The characters of the novel, though somewhat underdeveloped, are enjoyable as well and will undoubtedly appeal to younger readers who can identify with some of Sunni and Dean’s brother/sister antics. Overall, The Blackhope Enigma is a wonderful start to a fun and exciting series. The second novel, The Crimson Shard, tells of another adventure involving Sunni and Blaise and was published in October 2011.
Genre: Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
Themes:  Art, time travel, betrayal, Renaissance.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Scholastic Parent & Child and Library Media Connection.    
Series Information: Sequel, The Crimson Shard, released in October 2011.   
Discussion questions: 
-       Have you ever had someone who wanted to do a project on the same topic as you? Did this bother you like it did Sunni? Why or why not?
-     Do you think Blaise did the right thing in following Sunni and Dean into the painting?
-    Why do you think Marin thought Sunni and Dean were spies?
-     Do you think Angus got what he deserved? Why or why not?

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