Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Quest for the Uncharted Lands by Jaleigh Johnson

If memory serves, it was fall of 2013 when I first encountered the world of Solace. A friend and colleague had just sold her house, two doors down from me, to a relative. His wife, she mentioned, had just written her first children's book. Would I like to read it? My answer was an enthusiastic yes. She gave me The Mark of the Dragonfly and I dove into this crazy fantasy world that Jaleigh Johnson had created. I loved Piper, Anna, and Gee. Their journey on the 401 was insane, heart racing, and made me flip page after page. I wanted more. (Here and here are posts when I read it aloud to my class.)
My student, Cal, with a Dragonfly tattoo 
Jaleigh Johnson both delighted me and crushed my spirits on an author visit not too long after. Yes, there were two more books coming in this world of Solace, but no they wouldn't be following the journey of the three characters I had come to love. The second book in the series, The Secrets of Solace, would take us into another part of this world, the Archivists' Strongholds. Here we encountered new friends - Lina and Ozben. Again Johnson wrote strong characters, and importantly to me, strong female characters. The friendship was one my students could recognize as genuine as we turned the pages, trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together as fast as we could read.

And then, this summer, the third book in the world of Solace came out. Yesterday I picked up The Quest to the Uncharted Lands and worried. I loved the world of Solace I had grown to love. I dearly wanted to read more about Piper, Anna, and Gee. I wanted to return to Lina and Ozben. Would I be as invested in these new characters. The answer was a resounding yes.

The war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territiories is over. The two have joined together to send an airship over to the Uncharted Lands together and Stella's parents, both excellent healers, are on board. Stella desperately wanted to go, but the King has said it is too dangerous. Using her knowledge of alchemy, Stella sneaks on board and quickly learns that she isn't the only stowaway - there is another boy named Cyrus hiding as well with his own reasons for being on board. Stella and Cyrus quickly strike up a strong bond as they realize that someone on board doesn't want the ship to reach its destination.

What I loved about this book is that, like the first two, the female character is strong. Stella is wicked smart, brave, and does not wait around to be saved. She's also loyal and kind. I love that she pushes herself, questioning why she gets upset when learning about something with Cyrus. She doesn't shy away from difficult conversations. While I'm a fast reader, I had to put this book down several times, almost to catch my breath. Characters I loved were in scary situations and I just needed a moment to pull out of that world and reassure myself that I was ok and not on some crazy ship headed for mountains. 

My only complaint about this book? I didn't want it to be over. I am praying that Johnson will one day return to this world and write more about Solace, especially if it would mean returning to the characters from any of the three books. I think she could write an entire series from where The Quest to the Uncharted Lands left off, and I would LOVE to see that.

So, if you need to add to your summer reading list, and you have yet to visit the world of Solace, I have a series for you. A bit sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy, adventure, mystery, and a friendship story all rolled up into one. Try it out, you will not be disappointed.
And if you ever get the chance to have Jaleigh Johnson come to your school, jump on it. I've been blessed several times and my students love learning that she's a gamer and played D&D with her older siblings when she was young. It's easy to see where the origin of the storytelling gene came from here.

Also, as a neighbor, she never complains that my boys and all their friends tramp through her yard, firing off Nerf Guns, in their never ending battles. I keep waiting for one to turn up in her books. Maybe when we go back to see what Cyrus and Stella are up to next? Please????