School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Wormwood is full of secrets, known mostly by members of the Council. The rest of the villagers live oblivious, regimented lives. They've been told there's nothing outside of the village except for a forest inhabited by deadly creatures. Vega Jane, 14, is understandably alarmed when she sees her mentor, Quentin Herms, running straight for the Quag. If Council members find out that he left her a note and a map of the forest, who knows what would become of her? Frustrated by the prescribed secrecy that shrouds the village, Vega takes matters into her own hands, embarking on an adventure to investigate the mysteries surrounding Wormwood, the Quag, and Quentin's departure. She grows in confidence and knowledge with each clue she uncovers and makes more than a few enemies along the way. Vega's investigations reveal that little in Wormwood is as it appears. Fans of action-packed fantasy will enjoy her mystical adventures. At almost 500 pages, with sophisticated vocabulary, the book is best suited for strong readers. The pace is occasionally uneven, with redundant descriptions of Vega's daily life in Wormwood, and the large cast of minor characters can be challenging to track. The imaginative and multilayered world is the novel's strength, with the bleak, ancient village serving as a stark contrast to the fantastical adventures and challenges the teen faces in her quest for the truth. Readers will be rooting for her but will not find much resolution in The Finisher, as the last chapter seems to set the stage for the next installment.—Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR
Baldacci takes a late and none-too-nimble leap aboard the children's-fantasy bandwagon with this tale of a rebellious teenager in a town surrounded by a monster-ridden forest. Vega Jane gets by putting the finishing touches on high-quality manufactured goods (which, she later discovers, are thrown into a pit). She gets inklings both that Wormwood has a hidden past and isn't the world's only settlement after the town's other Finisher flees into the deadly Quag, leaving behind a map and a bestiary that catalogs its creatures. Before she finally follows him, hundreds of pages later, she is forced to compete in the town's Duelum, which is a regular round of previously males-only bare-knuckle fights for which there is no clear rationale. In labored efforts to create a sense of otherness, the author trots in a host of invented animals (garms, adars, jabbits and so on) and uses British cant ("The niff that bloke sent off…"). He also replaces all mention of "man," "woman," "human" and "dog" with, respectively, "male," "female," "Wug" or "Wugmort," and "canine," as in: "a male had killed his female for no cause other than he was a vile Wug" and "I didn't like my stuff male-handled." Despite these efforts, this is all familiar territory, from the isolated town with secretive leaders bent on preserving the status quo to violent visions, hidden rooms and libraries, characters with ambiguous agendas, a hot-tempered teen protagonist with nascent magical powers and three magical tools that practically fall into her hands. There's even a ring. With some perfunctory martial training from her boyfriend, Vega Jane improbably defeats several ravening monsters as well as a string of much larger and more experienced males, then flies off over the town walls to have future adventures. Like many crossover efforts from name-brand authors: overstuffed and underinspired. (Fantasy. 11-13)
Best known for his adult crime novels, Baldacci makes a detour into middle-grade with this wildly fanciful and darkly intriguing tale of a girl forced to fight for her life as she investigates the secrets of her tiny community. Fourteen-year-old Vega Jane works as a “Finisher,” creating goods she’ll never be able to afford and leading a hardscrabble life with her little brother. Like all other “Wugmorts,” they have never left the town of Wormwood, trapped there by the deadly Quag surrounding it. When Vega discovers a map leading through the Quag, she suspects there’s more to Wormwood than believed. Consistently using smarts, cunning, and improvisation, Vega proves herself a strong, admirable heroine as she’s thrown through time, uncovers lies and mysteries, and takes possession of magical artifacts. Her narration blends Wugmort slang with oddly formal speech and thought patterns, helping shape an enigmatic setting filled with unfamiliar terms, bizarre creatures, and memorable characters, as Baldacci pulls in elements of fantasy, science fiction, and myth. A cliffhanger ending leaves many explanations for future installments. Ages 10–14. Agent: Aaron Priest, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Advance Praise for THE FINISHER:
"What happens when an international best-selling crime novelist tries his hand at a youth fantasy? Well, in this case, success." -- BOOKLIST, starred review
"Best known for his adult crime novels, Baldacci makes a detour into middle-grade with this wildly fanciful and darkly intriguing tale of a girl forced to fight for her life as she investigates the secrets of her tiny community.” -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"This vividly described tale takes readers to an original fantasy world full of strange creatures, intriguing relationships, and long-lost secrets. Baldacci knows how to deliver thrills." -- Brandon Mull, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Fablehaven series
"THE FINISHER is an enchanting romp through a fantastical world worthy of Rowling or Brooks. Baldacci proves that his pen can engage youth as well as adults." – Richard Paul Evans, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Michael Vey series
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Tweens and teens have a new female champion in Vega Jane, an unprepossessing Wug from Wormwood who finds herself fighting for her life in the combat ring. At first, this freshman children’s book by acclaimed adult mystery writer, David Baldacci, seems to be mired in a created fantasy language of monsters that live in a netherworld, “the Quag,” and count time in “slivers” and “lights.” It’s a rookie fantasy writer trap that requires a Wormwood lexicon to keep all the invented terms and entities straight. The world that Baldacci has created has more in common with Middle Earth than, say, Hogwarts. It takes nearly a third of the book for Baldacci to settle into his story and grow Vega Jane as a character, a competitor, and a highly perceptive heroine. Baldacci honors fantasy tradition by following the rule of three. Vega has three magical weapons to assist her in combat and three competitors against whom to prove her mettle. There is also a wonderful female villain, Morrigone, who has Maleficent vibe about her that will fit in nicely with this summer’s blockbuster movie. At one point in the book, Vega Jane questions, “what comes after,” for a Wog, as the book seems to briefly stray into C.S. Lewis’ religious allegory. Is there an afterworld for human-like Wogs who attend Sunday “steeple” services? What actually happens to the members of the Jane family who suffer “events” in which they burst into flame that totally consumes them out of existence? Clearly there are sequels planned because Vega and her shy, stuttering boy-who-is-a-friend, Delph, go into the Quag looking for adventure while Morrigone, in a final contradictory act, waves them a benedictory farewell. Despite the book’s rough patches, Vega is a winning heroine and is sure to draw fans to her legend. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross; Ages 11 to 16.
VOYA, June 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 2) - Jan Chapman
This new dystopia from best-selling novelist Baldacci has all the elements needed to create a devoted teen following. Fourteen-year-old Vega Jane lives in a tightly circumscribed worldthe small hamlet of Wormwoodwhere everyone is expected to work hard and never venture outside the village limits. But Vega Jane has seen a fellow villager enter the forbidden and deadly Quag forest adjacent to Wormwood and begins to wonder if leaving her frustratingly constrained world is actually possible. The only things keeping her in Wormwood are her brother John, and her best friend, Delph. But Vega Jane was born to question authority, and her desire to know more about her world keeps landing her in dangerous situations, including a fighting competition called the Duelum, where combatants are often killed. Baldacci’s world-building is vivid and exciting, drawing the reader effortlessly into the story. The characters are carefully and richly drawn, with a very sympathetic and appealing female protagonist in Vega Jane. The plot, although filled with the usual dystopian tropes, is complex and fast paced enough to keep the reader eagerly turning the page. The author also includes a tantalizing backstory that deepens and enriches the plot. The ending is fairly predictable, but Baldacci’s skillful expertise in creating a riveting story elevates this beyond a mere retelling of The Hunger Games. Teen readers who cannot get enough of dystopias will embrace this one enthusiastically and eagerly await the sequel. Reviewer: Jan Chapman; Ages 11 to 18.