A book review for parents
This fantasy book by P.W. Catanese is the first in "The Books of Umber" series and is published by Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Happenstance Found is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Happenstance (Hap) is 12 when he wakes up in a cave having no memory of his past. The extraordinary Lord Umber, a man who advises royalty, writes books and presents amazing new ideas in his land full of sorcery and strange creatures, finds Hap with the help of a secret adviser, and he takes the boy into his home. Hap meets Umber's one-handed artist (Sophie), a bodyguard who is compelled by a curse to speak honestly at all times (Oates), an unfriendly housekeeper who secretly loves Umber (Lady Truden), an eccentric, unwashed historian who researches for Umber (Smudge), a kindly cook (Balfour) and a reclusive warrior just a few inches tall (Thimble). They all live under Umber's roof. Hap finds that he is sometimes able to see a mysterious thread that leads him places. The reader does not know much about what this thread is. While Umber tries to piece together Hap's origins, Umber's crew battles and avoids the ghoulish, multi-eyed Occo (also called The Creep) who wants to capture Hap and extract his unique green eyes. Occo has many eye sockets and thinks he will be able to see magical threads, too, if he has Hap's eyes. As book one ends, Occo is killed with the help of Umber's crew. Readers learn that Umber is really from another world (that appears to be Earth), which has been destroyed by the misuse of technology. Umber is on a mission to restore his world to its past glory, and he enlists Hap's help.
A couple of times, Hap "prays" something will or won't happen, but in these cases, this word seems to be used interchangeably with wish or hope. There is no mention that he is praying to anyone.
Lord Umber, who shares music and technological advances from his other world, helps the kingdom thrive without trying to usurp any power from the royals. He's a gracious and intensely curious man who periodically suffers bouts of depression. Crown Prince Argent and his brothers appear only once at Argent's birthday party. Argent expresses concern that Umber's printing presses will allow the spread of foolish and insubordinate ideas, while another prince shows himself to be a drunken buffoon. The sorceress Turiana, who once enjoyed the favor and respect of the nation for all her aid and kindness, allowed her interest in dark magic to turn her evil. She is now ghostly and malicious, and Umber has imprisoned her in his castle for the safety of the kingdom.
Other Belief Systems
Lord Umber's world includes sorcerers, wizards, magic and all kinds of creatures and monsters. All of these fascinate him because the world from which he originally hails has no such things. Oates has a curse on him that makes him speak his mind with complete honesty at all times. As Hap listens to music, he says it is a kind of magic, capable of weaving a powerful spell. Umber uses hypnosis to try to jog Hap's memory of his past. Umber credits luck when he finds a much needed escape route.
One of Umber's servants recites a limerick that is clearly meant to end in the word a--, but a dash appears in the text instead. A shark bites Boroon, a giant boat-bearing sea creature, causing blood to flow into the water. Boroon's driver, Nima, avenges the monster by slashing the shark with a sword and causing more blood. Frightening images of trolls and hobgoblins are called up a few times. Descriptions of the corpse-like Turiana are a bit scary, but the most terrifying images are those of Hap's pursuer, Occo. He's a ghastly creature with backward legs, and he steals other creatures' eyes to pop into his own numerous oozing eye sockets. Occo's long nails pierce through the skin of one of Umber's men, causing him to bleed profusely. When Occo is wounded by Thimble, he experiences intense agony and spews out searing threats while trying to catch the tiny man.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why did Hap read Umber's private letter and wander through the house when the others were asleep?
Were these intentional acts of spying?
How was Hap trying to understand who he was?
Why did he feel guilty for spying?
How would you feel if you did the same things he did?
- What would change if you didn't have any memory of your past?
Why was Hap obsessed with finding out where he came from?
If you were Hap and someone like Turiana offered you answers to all your questions, would you have betrayed Umber to get them?
- How would you feel if, similar to Oates, you were compelled to be completely honest at all times?
How would your life remain the same?
How would it change?
What is the difference between being honest and being cruel with your words?
How should Christians balance honesty with tactfulness?
- What happens when Hap lies to Oates, telling Oates he truly believes the man will one day be free of his curse?
What conflicting feelings does Hap have about his lie?
Have you ever told a lie and felt inner conflict like that?
What did you do?
- Why did the good and beautiful Turiana become evil?
What caused her to embrace dark magic?
What other character(s) succumbed to the lure of power and magic?
How can "toying" with sin and gaining knowledge of the wrong things impact your life?
What does the Bible say we need to focus our thoughts on?
Do you ever find yourself filling your mind with things that aren't praiseworthy?
- Why does Prince Argent disapprove of Umber's printing press?
How do you feel about his concern that if printing is made widely available, people will be able to spread their foolish and rebellious thoughts to everyone?
How does this way of thinking mimic the ideas of some early church leaders, who wanted the Bible kept out of reach of the common man?
Do you agree or disagree with Umber when he says that once an idea is put forth, it can't be called back, silenced or taken away?
Why do you agree or disagree?
- What causes Lord Umber's quirky moods?
Have you known anyone with similar symptoms &mdash such as mood swings, deep sadness, loss of interest in life?
How did that person deal with his anxiety and depression?
How did Umber handle the symptoms in a previous world?
- What did Lord Umber's world of origin have that his current world does not?
What happened to the world he came from?
How does Hap feel when he learns about Project Reboot and the other technology in Umber's world?
Do you think technology could ever be a destructive force in the world you live in? Explain your answer.
- What does Turiana promise Umber if he will set her free?
How does he respond to her tempting offers, and why does he answer this way?
Does this situation remind you of any stories in the Bible?
Wine is served on Nima's ship. Prince Galbus drinks at his brother's birthday party and appears from his behavior (and his wine-scented breath) to be inebriated. A few other times, wine is mentioned alongside other food at a meal.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.