Golding's YA debut, the first in the Companions Quartet, packs a serious environmental message, yet never feels heavy-handed. Eleven-year-old Connie Lionheart is not like other children-she has mismatched eyes and can talk to animals. Constantly switching schools because of assorted incidents ("Something always happens: foxes start following me around, or mice invade the classroom"), she ends up living with her odd Aunt Evelyn and soon meets popular student Col, who also has mismatched eyes. Aunt Evelyn is aware of Connie's abilities; she is a member of the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures, along with Col and a cast of eclectic characters. The Society is currently concerned with the sirens, who are increasingly angered by an encroaching oil company. The Society needs to find a "siren companion," someone who can approach the sirens while they are in their warlike state. Connie turns out to be a "universal companion," able to communicate with all species. Through her, the Society learns that an ancient evil spirit named Kullervo is whipping the sirens into their frenzy. Kullervo attempts to sway the tenderhearted Connie with a view of an unspoiled world-one "scoured clean" of humanity and its poisons-but the Society comes to her aid. The contemporary setting and its modern villains (including a shady oil company that covers up employee deaths) make for an entertaining read. Young readers with an environmental conscience will likely await the next outing in the series. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Natalie Solski
A well-constructed blend of myth and modern day, Secret of the Sirens breathes life into mythology, a less-often touched area of fiction. Golding gives both mythical and ordinary creatures strong characterizations, making them believable, three-dimensional personalities. Middle schoolers in particular will identify with many of the characters, although some readers might not be able to fully connect because of their seemingly changing motives. The plot, although at times predictable, is nevertheless satisfying.
VOYA - Rebecca Moore
Connie Lionheart has always been good with animals, but she never suspects it is more until she moves in with her Aunt Evelyn in Cornwall. There she discovers that Evelyn belongs to the Society, an ancient organization overseeing human interaction with 'mythical' beings such as dragons and unicorns. Through inborn gifts, each member acts as "companion" to one race. Connie naturally has the rarest gift of all-she is a universal companion who can bond with any race. Of necessity, she starts with the local sirens who, angered by an oil refinery built too near their home, have started killing off refinery workers. Commanding the sirens is a malevolent shape-shifter named Kullervo. He seeks to rid the world of humans altogether, but he needs Connie's help to do it. Can the untested Connie stand against him? This first novel in the projected Companions Quartet is fast-paced, creative, and somewhat lyrically written. The appealing Connie and her friends struggle not only with the mythic world but also with friendship, environmental issues, and big-business corruption. Although these elements are all-too-believable, the fantasy elements-a remix of old standards-are unfortunately superficial. It is partly because Golding spreads her net too wide; the mythical races lack depth because there are simply too many of them vying for the reader's attention. Another issue is the cringe-inducing use of self-important titles: Connie is always "The Universal," and the others are all "Companion to [whatever]." Nevertheless it is a lively tale to try with fans of Eva Ibbotson's fantasies.
Children's Literature - Gail Krause
The first book in the "Companions Quartet," Secret of the Sirens picks up where JK Rowling left off concerning the Society for the Preservation of Mythical Creatures fantasy enthusiasts. It's a classic hero's journey with Connie, a twelve-year-old newcomer to Hescombe, Great Britain, as the heroine. Unbeknownst to her, she is a descendant of a long line of companions to mythical creatures, but she thinks her ability to get along and communicate with animals is just another reason why she doesn't fit in to the regular school scene. She has transferred from several different schools and finally ends up living with her eccentric Aunt Evelyn, a threshold guardian, unsure of letting Connie know of the existence of the secret society. When it appears that Connie not only should be a member, but the highest ranking member as a universal companion to all mythical creatures and the only one who can save them from the exploits of modern-day business expansion, she fully supports Connie's gift, and becomes her ardent protector, as well as a loving aunt. Battling the Shapeshifter, an evil force that threatens the human world, Connie and the other companions, along with the help of the mythical creatures, save an oil tanker from crashing upon the sharp rocks and spilling black oil throughout the sea. The evil force appears to be destroyed, but Connie senses it will re-gather and confront her, the universal companion, in the future to again tempt her to help him destroy humankind. This is a great fantasy that is well written and riveting to the reader. An underlying message about saving our environment is intertwined throughout the story, and it also integrates characters of diverseethnicities. It is a wonderful start to a series that will quickly develop a following.
School Library Journal
While her parents are living abroad, 11-year-old Connie is forced to stay with her eccentric Aunt Evelyn. Then she notices a strange set of red ear protectors in her aunt's possession, and learns that the woman is a member of a secret society set on the protection of mythical creatures. It's not long before Connie learns of her own rare gift of communication, and of her connection to a dark and growing evil set to destroy all that the society has sought to protect. Golding's first book in this quartet is a strong fantasy filled with fantastic mythical creatures and companions alike. Connie isn't as strong or spunky as Pullman's Lyra or as clever and quick as Rowling's Hermione, but she may remind many girls of themselves, with the same insecurities and self-doubts. The story's only flaw is that the antagonist, the shapeless evil known as Kullervo (though bearing little resemblance to the character of Finnish mythology), inspires little fear. Pair this title with Kate Thompson's Switchers (Hyperion, 1998) for readers tired of books about dragons.
Lisa Marie WilliamsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Golding offers the softer side of adventure fantasy. In the lovely opening scene, Connie plays and talks with seagulls. Living with eccentric Aunt Evelyn, she learns of a secret Society charged with protecting "mythical" beings (actually real) from humanity's violence. Each Society member is companion to a particular species: water sprites, selkies, unicorns, dragons or one of many others. Might Connie be a companion to the sirens who live on nearby rocks tempting sailors to their deaths? Her destiny is far greater: She's a universal, a rare human companion to all mythical creatures. Foils include an international oil company poised to pollute the ocean, and Kullervo, a malevolent spirit in the process of taking over the world. Perspective is mostly Connie's but occasionally shifts to Col, a companion to "pegasi." Structurally epic but gentle in aura; an easily accessible tale for readers who enjoy mythical creatures. (Fantasy. 9-12)