Grim Nora and the Secret of the Skull
by A.M. Albaugh
Genre: YA Fantasy
When Nora Youngblood’s father dies on her sixteenth birthday, it’s the end of everything she ever knew. But a new journey begins with a skull-shaped pocket watch – the last gift from her father, a professor of archaeology. Where did this mysterious trinket come from, and why would a warlock named Kabos now be hunting her for it?
Nora, now an orphan, finds protection under a wizard named Malachi, his handsome apprentice, Aidan, and a brother she never knew she had. As she learns the truth about her family’s mysterious past, Nora seeks to uncover the secret of the skull, which leads to both a powerful and dangerous weapon. With the fate of the skull in her hands, she’s lured into the hidden world of Dubhgail to combat the treacherous Kabos – who has kidnapped her brother. Can she sacrifice herself to save her brother and her friends?
In this fantasy novel, a teenage girl discovers her magical heritage and soon finds herself facing the might of an evil warlock in another world.
A.M. Albaugh is an award-winning poet and photographer. She studied anthropology and communications with an emphasis in film and television at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Favorite authors include Hermann Hesse, Dostoyevsky, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lao Tzu, Kurt Vonnegut, Knut Hamsun, and Kahlil Gibran. She also enjoys writing code.
I’m so torn! I liked this story, I really did, and I wanna give it more stars, but… Have you ever gone out to dinner with friends? Had a great time, enjoyed the company and the jokes, but the food was just ‘meh’? That’s kinda how I’m feeling after reading Grim Nora and the Secret of the Skull; I still love my friends, despite the so-so night out, and we’re gonna do it again next weekend… at the same restaurant.
Now don’t get me wrong, the story is great. Nora Youngblood suffers a terrible tragedy on her 16th birthday: her father is found dead of a supposed suicide, but events quickly make it evident that his death was really murder. Strange and fantastical things start happening to & around Nora, and before long she’s swept up in a new world where magic and wizards are real and evil men are in search of the ultimate weapon to control life across multiple dimensions. With her new friends Nora must fight to save our world, and others, from the destructive power of the Morrigan, and the men who would use it for their own gain. Sounds awesome, right? And it is.
My problem with the book is that Nora seems too complacent and willing to just “go along” with all the new craziness in her life. For example: after her father’s death Nora wakes to find a strange young man in her home who claims to be her long-lost brother. Within minutes, they’re hugging it out and Nora’s following him to a strange mansion in the woods where she’ll be kept safe. Really? Who does that? Nora does, apparently, because as the story continues she just chugs along full-speed and full-trust ahead. At least she’s consistent!
Going back to my dinner out analogy, the book feels like it should be a 12 course gourmet feast but instead you get a Shari’s T-bone platter. Now, there’s nothing wrong with dinner at Shari’s. Sometimes it hits the spot just right! But when the bones of the story hold the potential for so much more, Shari’s comes off as a little ‘meh.’ Maybe that’s because I’m a full grown adult and I expected a bit more depth and nuance in the story. Grim Nora is, after all, a young adult read. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did it leave me satisfied and satiated? Meh. Am I hungry for more? Yeah, I am. And since this book appears to be the first in a series, I will likely continue when the next book is released.
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