James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain
This book revolves around James Clyde, plucky orphan, and his two friends, siblings Mary and Ben (also orphans). The three, recently adopted by crotchety Anne Brown, are looking forward to visiting with James’ elderly grandfather, Wiltmore Clyde, over the Christmas holidays. Wiltmore has always told James and his friends stories of the legendary land of Orchestra, where three invaluable diamonds are hidden, diamonds that can grant wishes.
The appearance of a sinister man in black heralds an attack on Wiltmore’s house by mysterious cloaked monsters, and James finds out that the stories his grandfather has been telling him all this time have been true. Orchestra is a real place, the diamonds are real, and James is in fact the long-lost heir to the throne. James (with the diamond his grandfather has been hiding since he was a baby) flees with Mary and Ben to Orchestra, where they find themselves embroiled in a long-running war for the rule of the legendary land, and possession of the magical diamonds.
I don’t normally review children’s books, nor do I have children, so I am reduced to giving an adult’s perspective on this book. The bones of the story are interesting, with flavors of The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, Peter Pan, and even the Terminator (yes, the movie, I kid you not). The cloaked monsters, the Dakotas are frankly creepy, and you get the impression of quite a bit of background waiting to flesh out the story.
Along those lines, some additional world building would have been helpful. The story throws you right in, with little explanation. I generally enjoy getting thrown into the middle of the chaos, but the book does little to explain things later on. James, Mary, and Ben know all about Orchestra and the diamonds, so there is no vehicle for the reader to learn much about the world. It feels like the author has a complete world built in his imagination, but you are only seeing the smallest sliver. The book feels like the beginning of a series, so future books could help to add depth to the land of Orchestra.
However, I think this book will be enjoyed by the ages it was intended for–kids around 10-12. The plot is simple enough for younger readers to not get bogged down, and the resulting fast pace will keep their attention. There are some violent and scarier scenes in the book, but nothing really over a PG rating. Kids who enjoy fantasy books would be a good match for this one.