The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Review by Sam Lubell
Palomino Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B00FY1RSXC
Date: 15 October 2013
The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a book that should not work, but does. At first glance (and second too) it seems like a rather blatant Harry Potter clone with a girl protagonist. There's the secret magic world (the Wise) with a special term (Unwary) for those not in the know, a magic school (the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts), wizards on brooms and some (not all) with wands, and dorms for different personality types (here, different types of magic although the scene where Rachel is assigned to her dorm is strangely missing). Even some of the people are recognizable -- Rachel, age 13, who wants to know everything, is a less abrasive Hermoine (helped here by a photographic memory) although her skill with a broom is more reminiscent of Harry, and orphan Sigfried Smith, "the most famous boy in the World of the Wise" is Harry Potter if he were raised by Don Quixote.
However, there are hints of a larger canvass. The book opens with a statement, "Once there was a world that seemed at first glance much like other worlds you may have lived in or read about, but it wasn't." The differences seem minor at first, but they add up. One of Rachel's friends who sees visions when she touches people, finds several coming from different worlds. There's a lion who resembles Narnia's Aslan and references to Wendy Darling's ancestor defeating Peter, the son of Pan. There are also suggestions of a hidden world within the hidden world of the Wise. And there are mysteries like the Raven that only Rachel can see, a statue of a winged woman that loses its wings, and how no one knows that animals can talk. Most of these mysteries are not resolved in this book, as the author leaves room for many sequels. Still, from the very first chapter, there is a sense of a larger world that is missing from the early Harry Potter books.
Unlike Harry Potter, in which each book covers a year, this book covers just a few days. During these days Rachel enters school, makes friends, stops an assassination, makes enemies, fights a duel, and meets a mysterious older boy who is strangely willing to spend time with a much younger girl. As a result, sometimes the book feels a bit rushed, especially at the end. Still, this pacing gives the book compulsive readability as the reader keeps wanting to learn what happens next and what the clues really mean. Also, unlike Harry Potter, there is no Voldemort character, at least not yet, and the book takes a while to reveal its antagonist.
There is lots of action and interesting characters. Rachel has to determine if she is willing to disobey adults to help her friends. She also has to decide whether to believe those who keep telling her that the older boy who keeps helping her is really evil. Even by the end of the book, it is not clear; making The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin less black and white than the Harry Potter books.
The ending is a bit disappointing. While it doesn't quite end at a cliffhanger, the book badly needs a couple of chapters at the end for the characters to share information and conclusions. Instead, judging from the preview, the next book opens just an hour later.
The book is ideally suited for girls 11-14 who loved the Harry Potter books and want more just like it. It also rewards older readers who are willing to look beyond the surface similarities to Harry Potter and recognize the book's own magic.