Reviews: The Luck Uglies

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham (HarperCollins, Expected Publication: April 2014)

 I don’t often open reviews with the first line, but in this case, I think it’s my favorite first line of the year so far.

“Rye and her two friends had never intended to steal the banned book from the Angry Poet–they’d just hoped to read it.”

First lines are like the first bite of food in a meal.  They give you an instant impression of what the book will be like, sound like and feel like.  While a great first line does guarantee a great book, a good first line can be quite a boon to a book.    The moment I read this line I found myself relaxing into the story, recognizing I was in for a fun and furious ride.  The Luck Uglies is a fantastic adventure of urban fantasy for middle grade readers that welcomes its audience in and brings readers along the rooftops and down into the tunnels and everywhere in between.  Delicious, filling, and has got me asking for seconds!

Rye O’Chanter and her family live in the town of Drowning,  a placed ruled by the oppressive and petty Earl Longchance.   Rye’s nature is such that she cares nothing for the Earl’s laws (such as the one about women not reading) and is more than willing to break such rules–especially when there’s a chance to read a book that the Earl has banned.  But now trouble has come back to Drowning.  Monsters known as Bog Noblins  have returned to the town, and pose a danger to everyone.  Rye knows only the legendary Luck Uglies can defeat these monsters–but even if she finds this notorious secret society, will they help Drowning this time?

Sometimes names in a book are simply there and the readers won’t particularly note or notice them.  Other times the names clash or wind up feeling inappropriate for the character or book.  In rare instances, a book can take the names and run with them.  Paul Durham’s book manages to succeed with names on a level I’ve only seen with a few other authors–including my personal favorite, Terry Pratchett.  Let me just list a few of the names for characters and places you’ll find in the book:  Morningwig Long Chance, The Dead Fish Inn,  Bog Noblins, Rye O’Chanter,  Harmless, Folly Flood.  In another book, the names would feel out of place, oddly comical.  Here they fit and light up the text, giving it character and a sense of earthy whimsy.

For a debut story this is great stuff.  Heck, it’s great stuff no matter what.  Vividly drawn characters and a setting that is as much a character in its own right.  Interestingly, this is also a family story of sorts.  Granted, Rye’s family is a very odd one indeed,  but that just makes it more of a reading adventure.  In some ways this tale remains fairly straight forward, our worst villain is obvious from the start–there’s no gray area when it comes to Earl Longchance, he’s as nasty as Prince Humperdink.   While I think the adventure and fun of the tale are firmly middle grade, there is some rather startling violence in the story. (for instance, a man getting his arm bitten off) that might be a bit much for some readers.  Despite the light-hearted  feel of the story there is still some truly frightening stuff going on.

For all that, it’s going to be the characters that win out for me.  Especially Rye’s toddler sister, Lottie who seems to have a dangerous love of swords and pointy objects.  This story is presented up front as the first in a trilogy and I for one will be looking forward to the next volume!


Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

Publisher: HarperCollins

Expected Publication Date: April 2014   

ISBN13:       9780062271501

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on February 15, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’m going to give it a try!

  2. Reblogged this on Chasing Normal and commented:
    Great review on an upcoming release from HarperCollins. Made me want to read this middle grade fiction novel.

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