The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes
By Wade Albert White
Published by Little, Brown
Expected pub date: September 13, 2016
The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes is a ridiculously silly middle grade fantasy book. The main character, Anne, has spent her entire life at Saint Lupin’s orphanage, being tormented by the evil Matron while dreaming of the day when she can finally go on adventures on her own. When the Matron forbids Anne from leaving the night before her thirteenth birthday, Anne and her best friend Penelope plot their escape.
Things take a really wild turn when the Matron’s pet fire lizard runs off, leading Anne to an old collapsed mine. There, she encounters a dragon and a representative from the local Quest Academy, who gives her a magic gauntlet and invites her to come train at the school. From there, things get even more ridiculous as Anne accidentally activates a prophecy medallion, sending her on a Rightful Heir Quest with a really short time limit.
The premise of the book is a lot of fun, and the world building is really creative– Anne’s universe is comprised of floating islands of land known as “tiers,” which orbit around a giant ball of magical energy. The only ways to get from tier to tier are by flying ship (like the one that visits the orphanage every year), dragon fireballs (which are expensive), and portals (which are forbidden). There are also robots and computers, which came from the “Old World” and their origins are somewhat a mystery.
The weird bureaucracy of the book’s magical system definitely distracts from the fun. Permits are required to do magic, if you fail a quest you go to prison, everyone is assigned their official role in the quest and there are various consequences if you fail to fulfill your role (namely, you’ll get marked down on your report card). Even these consequences amount to nothing in the end, because the author can’t help but present easy options to get the characters out of seemingly impossible situations.
By the end, I was just really frustrated. There is so much potential for these characters, but there’s too much going on and the book spends too much time trying to be clever to let the characters and story shine. It’s a real shame, because I loved that the majority of the book’s main characters are people of color and that there’s a real focus on female characters.
The book definitely sets up a series, and perhaps some of the issues from this one will be resolved in book two, but there’s a lot to make up for. Younger readers will probably enjoy the book for its sheer silliness, though many of the things Albert White is satirizing may go over their heads. In the end, the book’s randomness was just too much for this adult reader.