The Puzzle Ring
by Kate Forsyth
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Source: bought from Dymocks
Hannah, a 12-year-old girl from Australia, discovers that she is the heir to a Scottish title, castle... and curse. When she was just a baby, her father disappeared, and it was all thanks to the curse that has plagued the family for generations.
Hannah convinces her mother, confirmed skeptic Roz, to travel to Scotland so that she can investigate and perhaps figure out a way to break the curse. Along with her new-found friends, Hannah journeys back in time to the 1500s in an attempt to find the four pieces of the puzzle ring... because only when they are joined together once more can the curse be broken. But in her rash decision to try to break the curse, Hannah didn't consider one important question: How will they ever get home again?
I'm a bit conflicted about this book. I've been wanting to read it for ages, and when I got an e-book reader, I finally had a chance to do so (the paperback edition is not easy to come by in North America, so I read this book as a PDF). At first, I thought it was going to be an interesting fantasy, full of fairy myths and legends and historical goodies. The book did have all of those things (especially in the author's note at the end)... but it just didn't hold my interest, and I couldn't wait for it to be over.
I think the main issue that I had was that, going into it, I thought it was a young adult book. It's not. It falls squarely in the middle grade category. Even then, it wasn't as good as I thought it could have been. Certain passages had me cringing. Adverb abuse was obvious. The characters were one-dimensional, and the foreshadowing was pretty heavy handed. Aside from Hannah needing to find the pieces of the puzzle ring, she also had to figure out which one of her friends was the "child of true blood". I figured it out so early that the rest of the book didn't hold many surprises. I also thought there were too many characters. Max, for example, seemed like an afterthought, and I often wasn't sure where he was half the time. I didn't particularly like any of the kids, and Roz's stubborn skepticism was particularly aggravating.
As for the plot, I felt it dragged on for far too long. I know I should have expected a long story when the plot involves finding four pieces of a ring that were flung in the four directions of the compass, but still... The sub-plot about Mary, Queen of Scots was almost unnecessary and only added more pages to an already overlong novel. I think it could have worked just as well as a plain fantasy story. Include the time travel, by all means, but leave out the political and historical intrigues; they weren't really needed.
I might have loved this book when I was about 11, but reading it as an adult was a bit excruciating. Some middle grade books can be done really well and show the immaturity of the child protagonists without making you want to slap them. Unfortunately, this book failed to do so, and didn't live up to my high expectations. Unless you're actually in middle school and like historical fiction, I'd say give this one a pass.
Overall: 2.4 out of 5