The After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

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The Apprentices by Maile Meloy

apprenticesHow excited was I to find out there was a sequel to The Apothecary? Pretty darn excited, I tell you. I’m out of the loop and didn’t even know it was coming out and just happened across it on the new book shelf! This was the second book I read while on vacation and I polished it off pretty quickly and then passed it on to Paul, who also devoured it. Two years have passed since Janie and her parents left behind the extraordinary magical/scientific adventure of the first book and lost their memories of that time.  Janie has since had her memories returned to her, though she hasn’t seen Benjamin since then.  Like in the first book the good apothecary society is fighting against the bad people who favor nuclear war and using their knowledge for evil.  One of the things I liked so much in the first book was the interesting historical context and this book also has one.  Benjamin and his father are in the jungles of Vietnam helping villagers who are attacked by the Vietminh.  The Vietnam War and its origins has always been confusing to me, and it was fascinating to read about it here. The action of the story moves back and forth between Janie, working on a science experiment at her boarding school, and Benjamin, with his father in the jungle.  A kidnapping builds the suspense and action and brings them all together.  There are plenty more amazing abilities revealed through the big book they rely on. While the first book didn’t leave me yearning for a sequel, this book clearly is set up to have a third and final installment.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

I absolutely loved this book. Picked it up at the library just because of the author-I thought Paul would want to read this because he likes Meloy, and indeed he did.  Then I read it and loved it, and passed it on to Mom, who also loved it. There-that’s three people loving this charming adventure-fantasty-interestingly historical novel –wouldn’t you like to read it to?

I found the time period really interesting-set in the early 50s an American girl and her parents abruptly move to London because, as screenwriters, her parents are about to be called up to the McCarthy hearings as possible Communists.  In London they must adjust to British life-cold, a small flat, uniforms, etc.  Janie meets an interesting boy at school and then finds out that he is the son of the local apothecary.  It’s hard to explain what happens next. Basically, the boy and Janie find out his father isn’t just a drugstore owner, but from a long line of true alchemists who can make things happen with the right plants and so on.  Furthermore, this knowledge has been sought by bad people for thousands of years.  In this time of the Cold War the alchemists band together to try to use their knowledge to fight against the development of nuclear war.

It’s a really interesting blend of history and fantasy and I found the whole thing utterly charming, as well as quite exciting.