This is a Kingdoms & Empires novel. You will want to read Bronte’s adventure first, because you’ll like this one better if you do. Moriarty covers her bases, but when a key figure reappears and you’re wondering: what?! having read the other book, at least you will also experience: oh!! (maybe rub your hands together). Too, there are mentions, people…just read the other book first.
My review of the first book: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone in which I write:
It’s a pleasure watching all the pieces fit into place. Despite the size of Bronte’s family and each addition of friendship, and despite the breadth of her travels and the tasks involved, no detail is superfluous as Moriarty weaves an astonishingly snug narrative. She rewards the reader for paying attention, and because the clues seem obvious and Bronte so quick to reflect on them, you may assume there’ll be little room for surprises.
If you take your adventures with a heavy dose of the whimsical and enjoy heroines who wear their sass and vulnerability beneath a veneer of polite society, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a your cup of tea.
Arthur A. Levine, 2019. Hardcover Middle-grade Fantasy, 416 pp.
The town of Spindrift is frequented by all kinds of Shadow Mages and charlatans.
It’s also home to the Orphanage School, where Finlay lives with Glim, Taya, and Eli. Just outside town is the painfully posh Brathelthwaite Boarding School, home to Honey Bee, Hamish, and Victor, Duke of Ainsley. When the two schools compete at the Spindrift Tournament, the stakes are high, tensions are higher, and some people are out to win at any cost. Before long, the orphans and the boarding school kids are at each other’s throats.
And then the Whispering Wars break out, and Spindrift is thrust onto the front lines. Children are being stolen; witches, sirens, and a deadly magical flu invade the town; and all attempts to fight back are met with defeat.
Finlay, Honey Bee, and their friends must join forces to outwit the encroaching forces of darkness, rescue the stolen children, and turn the tide of the war. But how can one bickering troupe outwit the insidious power of the Whisperers?—JACKET COPY
Jaclyn Moriarty returns with a second installment of Kingdom & Empires with the Whispering Wars we hear about in the first novel. It will be a scary time with enough of the whimsy and the fantastical for a reader to explore how wartime looks. Moriarty will also aid the reader by writing some very capable and determined young characters. She’ll give us two protagonists to start, but this will be a group effort—once she manages to gets everyone to cooperate.
From the very beginning we get the tension of two sides working both together and against one another. The adventure is recorded via alternating chapters between the perspectives of Finlay and Honey Bee. They have a story to tell, and a need to argue with—I mean, frequently address each other. You will learn later how this shared recording comes to be as the narratives catch up the action. Moriarty is kinda clever. But in the meantime, they are rivals: Finlay and the Orphanage vs Honey Bee and Brathelthwaite Boarding School.
Finlay will open the adventure with a time to watch out for, when he, like many other children in the Empires & Kingdoms will vanish. In the meantime, we are to be introduced to his and the other orphans life in the Orphanage and another much anticipated day: the Spindrift Tournament. Alternately, Honey Bee will provide insight as to what her life looks like at Brathelwaite and introduce us to her cohort. Moriarty will again give us a lot of characters, but fortunately, they feel very much individual. Paired with illustrations, you’ll find them very easy to track in short order. And don’t worry, you won’t like all of them—all the way through, anyway.
We’ll arrive at the Spindrift Tournament where Moriarty will turn the burner up on the plot. A competition is soured and an orphan goes missing. And both the Whispering Wars and the War between small gangs of children begin in earnest. Finlay and Honey Bee will explain their reasonings with every escalating act of retribution. As for the War, you’ll have to attend to what Finlay and Honey Bee see and hear from the adults where and when they encounter them.
You need to pay attention the action happening at the periphery, in the adult world; but also admire the patterns played out between the children. There is an echo in the ways in which each side’s actions escalate, how easy it can be to get caught up; to write a narrative of one side that doesn’t consider the others’—and maybe they can’t know it. Too, there is dissention in the ranks and whether that matters or not in the ability to stop or change a course of action.
Just when the warring between the two schools becomes tiresome (in the novel and with the characters), two new figures and two new mysteries arrive. The strangers call the two groups to work together toward a mutually beneficial end. Their mission will launch us into Part 2 (of the 3 Part novel).
Part 2 brings us round to the event the opening of the book promises us. It was quite the journey to get the back story. Usually the device inspires an anticipation of an event, but it was too easy to get caught up in petty and dangerous antics to remember that a child was taken and another will be—and the protagonist no less. Intentional? Even so, we have the events of that day, leading up to that significant event…and it is awful. Moriarty has turned up the burner. Fear and anger builds in its suspicious nature and a population is ordered to be “thrown in cages.”
The darkness that had already begun to gather, stolen children, serious illness, wartime deaths…it darkens. The children and the world itself have warned us they are capable of going to some drastic measures in which to succeed in their plans. With the children, it is both terrifying and comforting.
The children will do something courageous, which means they do something terribly dangerous. And honestly, Moriarty makes no guarantees. I was surprised and impressed at how fraught Moriarty makes their situation.
We’ve learned by this point that the Parts of the novel are a break in the recording of the story. By the end of Part 1, we know why Finlay and Honey Bee have been elected to record the story of how they arrived where they are. We understand it’s import. Part 2 gives the record an additional reason: a desire for a way to get their story told. And indeed, the Whispering Wars offers unusual wartime perspectives: this is the recording of children, and they capture the stories (however peripheral) of unheard populations, including the voices of a future generation—and I mean this quite literally.
Part 3 is a plausible break in the narrative and we’ll again get filled in on what has happened. The novel will slow then race, wait, then become nail-biting. I was quick with the page turns here. And just when we can settle in to breathe and sip tea, we learn that the story hasn’t fully concluded. It’s the tightening of focus, we relax our gaze and begin to take in what has been going on in the periphery, where we haven’t been drawn to look and frankly, haven’t had time to. Remember how I’d written of the first Empires & Kingdoms novel:
It’s a pleasure watching all the pieces fit into place. [Moriarty] rewards the reader for paying attention, and because the clues seem obvious and [the protagonist] so quick to reflect on them, you may assume there’ll be little room for surprises.
Moriarty does it again. The mysteries will be solved, some you’d forgotten and some you didn’t realize were mysteries needing solved. The one at the heart of the two stranger’s daring is the one revelation that will invite you to research the release date of Book 3. Man, I adore those two characters… And I hope in book 3, we’ll learn the trajectory of a few more of this book’s characters.
The Whispering Wars is a different kind of companion novel; an odd sort of prequel that involves time-travel. But it must certainly be a bridge book back toward a future adventure involving the discovery made at the picnic… Moriarty is most imaginative and unbound by convention. This is the world she’s built and she knows how to have an adventure; willfully and open to anything. I love it.
Moriarty also writes, in The Whispering Wars, a story that feels all too relevant. She brings a complex occurrence into the realms of children with scenarios and characters with which young readers can identify. While not insulting them by limiting their skills of observation where the greater (adult) world is concerned. Moriarty offers levity and kindness where she can, but she doesn’t flinch from the darkness a war (among other things) brings with it, even if the story involves magic and fanciful creatures.
I’m looking forward to the next installment and the date when I sit down and read the whole series through. Between the characters, the clever imagination of Moriarty’s world, and the craftswomanship, Kingdoms & Empires is a place worth re-exploring at length.
Jaclyn Moriarty is an award-winning author. A former media and entertainment lawyer, Jaclyn grew up in Sydney, Australia, lived in the United States, Canada, and UK, and now lives in Sydney again. She is very fond of chocolate, blueberries, and sleep.