Let me just jump right in and say that this book might possibly be my favourite book that I’ve read in a long time. I picked up this book because I was a massive fan of Lindsay Cummings’ previous novel THE MURDER COMPLEX, yet it sat on my shelf for months before I finally found time to sit down and read it. And I’m so glad that I did. I don’t read a lot of Middle Grade, but books like this remind me of why I should. I’ve heard BALANCE KEEPERS be described as ‘Harry Potter meets Percy Jackson’, and while I don’t normally take reviews like that to heart, I have to say that if you love either of these series’ (or both!) as much as I do, then you really should pick up this book and give it a read. A final quick thought that I have on this book is that it is, in my view, incredibly visual. As I read, the descriptions provided are so vivid that everything seemed fully formed and fully defined in my mind, something that I’ve seen many writers try to do but often lack in. The Fires of Calderon is the first in the series, and is an absolutely fantastic opening to what I’m sure will be an incredible series.
After following a mysterious map into the woods and then under the woods, eleven-year-old Albert Flynn learns he’s a Balance Keeper—someone with special magical skills for fixing problems in three underground Realms at the Core of the earth. His new job is important; if the realms fall out of balance, the world above could be in great danger.
Albert and his Balance Keeper teammates Birdie and Leroy arrive in the Core not a moment too soon. There’s an Imbalance in the Calderon Realm and it’s threatening to bury Albert’s hometown of New York City in a mountain of ash.
The three must train hard completing mental and physical challenges, but above all, they must harness the power of their Tiles—unique superpowers given to each Balance Keeper. So far, Albert’s mastered the art of not mastering his Tile….
With the situation in Calderon growing worse every day, can Albert, Leroy, and Birdie restore balance before New York is destroyed forever? Will Albert master his Tile before it’s too late?
Perfect for fans of Percy Jackson, The Unwanteds, and the classic Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The novel opens with our main character, Albert Flynn, as he helps his father sort mail in Herman, Wyoming. When following a strange map (and a strange dog) to deliver a letter somewhere deep in the woods, Albert finds himself entering into a tree where an eccentric man leads him under the surface of the earth. He meets two new friends, Birdie and Leroy, and learns that he is what is a known as a Balance Keeper—someone with special supernatural abilities to fix magical problems in three mysterious Realms hidden underground. Albert discovers that his father is a Professor in this underground world, and his father leads our trio to pick their tiles from the Waterfall of Fate. These tiles give the Balance Keepers their unique super abilities; Birdie picks the Water tile which helps her breathe underwater, Leroy picks the Synapse tile which gives him enhanced mental capabilities, but the tile which Albert picks is strange, black (whereas the rest are white), and his father does not recognise it. As the trio of Balance Keepers train and do battle with another group (spearheaded by the obnoxious Hoyt), an Imbalance in the Calderon Realm grows, and should it get much worse, the fate of the world above hangs in the balance.
As the story progresses and Albert begins to discover the mystery of his tile, we watch as the three friends grow and bond, and the Core begins to be expanded and explained to us. If I have to describe the plot in just one word, all I can say is that it’s really fun. From beginning to end, through everything we watch unfold, The Fires of Calderon never stops being fun and exciting to read.
There are so many characters in this book worthy of talking about, but our three main characters are Albert Flynn (who’s perspective we read the story from), Birdie Howell, and Leroy Jackson. Together they make up Team Hydra in the Core. All three are eleven years old and find themselves meeting at the entrance to the Core having come from different parts of America.
I absolutely adored the three characters; Albert is an excitable kid who thrives on the adventure aspect of his new life, while at the same time understanding the danger of it. He does everything he can to help his friends. Leroy, on the other hand, loves the theoretical side of his new life and could probably do without the danger. (My favourite line in the novel was when he says “Talk about spooky […] why couldn’t it be called the Forest of Fluffy Bunnies or something?” (p.274). And Birdie. What can I say about Birdie? She’s the most awesome eleven year old kid since Annabeth Chase. And that’s saying something.
To compliment these three we have characters such as Albert’s dad, Professor Bob Flynn, who throughout the novel seemed to me to have an air of mystery around him. He helps the kids out, but I can definitely tell that he’s still been hiding something from Albert.
And then we have the characters that all Middle Grade books have to have: the obnoxious kid and his cronies! Hoyt and his buddies in Team Argon. They provide the right amount of competition for our main characters, and they give plenty opportunity for Albert, Leroy, and Birdie to prove their awesomeness!
(And I can’t possibly write all of this without mentioning the greatest character of all time! Farnsworth the dog, who can light up his eyes and use them as flashlights! Come on, that’s just awesome.)
This book has to be one of my favourites in years. As soon as I started reading it I knew that I was going to love it. The writing is fantastic, the plot is exciting and fun, the characters are fresh and great to read. The world that Lindsay has created is vast and unique, and I can’t wait to read more about it throughout the rest of the series.
And now we have to endure the worst part of being a reader; having to wait until September 22nd for the second book in the BALANCE KEEPERS series, The Pillars of Ponderay, to hit shelves! I can’t wait for that day!