The Trouble with Weasels (Life of Zarf, book one)
By Rob Harrell
Expected publication September 2, 2014 by Dial
Zarf is a troll. Yes, THAT kind. He also has what is basically the worst name in the kingdom - I mean, come on, it rhymes with 'barf'. But he's pretty content otherwise. Until the day the beloved King disappears and his not-so-nice son, Prince Roquefort (Zarf's mortal enemy), takes his place. Things get even more complicated when Zarf embarks on a quest to discover the truth behind the king's disappearance.
I requested the galley of this because I figured it would be a quick read. Plus, it's an illustrated middle-grade fantasy novel, something that has tons of appeal to readers, so I figured it'd be helpful if I checked it out.
It definitely hits all the right notes on appeal factors for middle-grade readers - short chapters, liberal illustrations, a blend of silly and sophisticated humor, and typical middle school problems. I wasn't wrong about this being a quick read - I finished it in a couple of hours. The short chapters definitely help speed things along - it keeps readers turning the pages to find out what will happen next. Similarly, the liberal use of illustrations eat up large chunks of page space, making the pages fly by even more quickly. And it is funny - I chuckled to myself a number of times while reading. As I mentioned, it's a blend of silly humor (think your Captain Underpants, etc.) and slightly more sophisticated stuff (puns, satire, ludicrous twists on familiar tales). It works well and I think makes the book more appealing to a wider variety of readers. Though Zarf is a troll and his world is populated by fairy tale creatures, many of their problems are typical of kids in the middle-school set, making the book even more accessible to readers.
My only question is whether this illustrated kind of novel will appeal to fantasy readers as well - this book is, after all, definitely a fantasy. The only book that has come close to the same level of popularity as Diary of a Wimpy Kid is Origami Yoda - but both of those books are realistic fiction. I'm not sure if those same readers will be on board for a similar style in a fantasy world, but I'm happy for the change of pace. I will definitely be recommending this to readers of those series.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.