Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle is a “first-rate fantasy for middle grade (Grades 5-8) readers.” (Booklist, Starred).
In this fantasy quest, Gabriel must make and answer numerous riddles and puns in order to find his long lost father and vanquish his evil uncle. Magic comes in the form of an ancient necklace and old ash walking stick that must be found and reunited. In addition to the support of his three friends – Abby, Pamela and Somes – Gabriel gets help from an unkindness of talking ravens, especially Palladin, his “amicus”. Other magical elements include various talking birds, a writing desk that walks, and Gabriel’s ability to “paravolate” – when a boy and raven can fly as one. Gabriel is hindered by the evil, carrion-eating “valravens” in his quest to find Aviopolis – a vast underground city populated with magical birds of every variety and the place where Gabriel’s father is a prisoner.
The story is told in a conversational, engaging style. Humour and challenge come in the number of riddles and puns that appear on almost every page, making it fun for readers to solve along with the protagonist; and, making this a good novel for read aloud in Grades 4-6 where the riddles and puns provide a class challenge and good examples of word play.
Themes of trust and betrayal, friendship and loyalty, honesty and selflessness, and family relationships play out between the well-drawn characters. At times, the search seems endless, with many mishaps that will not seem tedious for young readers who love fantasy. In the final scene, the reader is left wondering whether there will be a sequel in which Gabriel searches to find his missing mother.