It's been quite a while since my last re-read of the Harry Potter books (in fact, I've recently started my fourth read-through, after binging the movies earlier this summer), but it was so refreshing – even, dare I say, cathartic – to read Rowling again.
For the last two years or so, I've been somewhat starved of a good fiction series to get excited about. That's not for lack of trying by the way. I've opened many a young adult fiction novel, but almost all of them have dissapointed, or were simply just “ok”.
While the quantity of YA fiction being produced definitely seems to be on the rise, the quality of the genre has shown a commensurate decrease. The majority of YA fiction these days is overly contrived, plagued with weak worldbuilding, or just poorly written.
And that's why I was so eagerly looking forward to this book: as a cleansing of the palette by an author who I knew could deliver. The story follows the Kingdom of Cornucopia, and how two insiduous lords hoodwink the entire country in a great scam by convincing them that the Ickabog – a mythical creature invented to scare disobedient children into submission – is, in fact, real. They then proceed to kill their enemies and institute outrageously high taxes (among other crimes), blaming the Ickabog for it all. Little do they know that the tale of the Ickabog is grounded in reality, and that the creature does actually exist, and that a reckoning is coming.
In all senses, it is a throroughly enjoyable read, although I do feel it petered out just the slightest bit torward the end (I feel similarly about Harry Potter, too, but endings are hard, and ending good books even more so, so I'm prepared to let this slide).
One thing in particular I appreciated was Rowling's witty way with names. Just as in Harry Potter, the names of characters, objects, events, and places all roll off the tounge, inspiring curiosity or admiration through their ingenious plays on words.
Take the word Ickabog, for instance. What a wonderful name it makes for; what a wonderful title! The whole book is replete with delightful names, from Major Beamish to Lords Spittleworth and Flapoon to Advisor Herringbone. These names in and of themselves provide as much color and feeling to Rowling's characters as any outward-facing traits she gives them, and enrich the story immeasurably.
Despite being a children's book, The Ickabog, just like Harry Potter, can be read and appreciated by anyone who appreciates that good writing can come in every form, and that J.K. Rowling is, hands down, a very, very, good writer. It is a model for what good YA fiction looks like (despite being written as a book for younger children, I think it ended up, in some ways, as a YA book - although I'm curious to see what other think!), and I can only hope that the next generation of YA writers read it and are inspired to create stories of similar quality in its name. I heartily recommend it!