Book Review: Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson’s The Familiars

Posted June 25, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews, Middle-Grade readers

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson’s The Familiars

The Familiars


Adam Jay Epstein, Andrew Jacobson

action & adventure, fantasy that was published by HarperCollins on September 7, 2010 and has 360 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Illustrator: Kei Acedera, Peter Chan

First in The Familiars fantasy series for young middle-grade readers and revolving around three magical familiars: an orphan cat, a blue jay, and a frog.

In 2010, The Familiars was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award.

My Take

This is a fun and easy-to-read story of three mismatched familiars who must trust in each other and work as a team to save their loyals.

You can’t help laughing (and worrying!) for Aldwyn as he struggles to hide his lack of magical abilities and yet help his friends. Even more laughter ensues with Gilbert’s obsession with bugs…ewwww…and I don’t care how good Kalstaff’s beetle soup is!

Epstein and Jacobson nicely incorporated Aldwyn’s natural cat skills as well as the knowledge he’s gained throughout his alley cat life into the adventure. They included Skylar’s bird qualities as well as making good use of Gilbert’s frog nature to keep this fantasy more realistic — and keeping that laughter coming. Each familiar is quite distinct in character from the other: Aldwyn has his secrets (which we know), Gilbert is depressed over his father’s disappointment in him (it’s quite unfair to scold Gilbert for things he hasn’t done yet!), and Skylar is quite the little know-it-all…who also has some secrets.

The scene in which Gilbert, Aldwyn, and Skylar visit Daku is a great way to show us the positives and negatives of being able to see the future. That section may not take long, but there is a lot of emotion in it, some of which crops up at the end.

There are several surprises at the end, and I never realized the subtle foreshadowing at the start when Kalstaff explains that familiars should never do human spells. Hmphh. I’m also curious about that silver and emerald anklet that keeps cropping up, and Aldwyn’s dreams about his family.

It broke my heart when the Kailasa Cave collapsed, destroying all those paintings…and the truth.

It’s a magical adventure parents will appreciate in which the three discover their strengths and forge a tight bond of friendship.

The Story

Gundabeasts, other monsters, and the weather are destroying Vastia, and there are rumours that the queen is ill. Only, no one knows just how truly ill Queen Loranella is when she descends on Stone Runlet to destroy Kalstaff and his pupils.

Only Kalstaff rallies and throws a protection spell around the three loyals, forcing the queen to steal away with them. That spell will only last three days, and their familiars must find them before the queen can kill them.

The Characters

Aldwyn is an orphan alley cat using his wits to survive in Bridgetower. He’ll need those wits when the other familiars believe he’s a telekinetic cat from Maidenmere.

Stone Runlet is…
…where Kalstaff, one of the three wizards who won the war and became the queen’s most trusted advisor and protector (Zabulon, a hound, was his familiar), teaches his apprentices: Jack, the young man who chooses Aldwyn as his familiar; Marianne is Jack’s sister, and her familiar is Gilbert of the Daku Swamp Forest, a red-eyed tree frog whose ability is puddle viewing; and, Dalton with his familiar, Skylar, a blue jay from Nearhurst Aviary whose ability is illusion. Scribius is Kalstaff’s enchanted quill.

Gilbert’s father is the clan leader and a master seer. Phillip is one of Gilbert’s sixty-two younger brothers. The grumpy Mountain Alchemist was the third wizard, a.k.a., Yonatan McCallister of wizarding royalty, who retired due to injuries during the Uprising. Edan is his tortoise familiar whose ability is time-stopping. Tammy is the innkeeper’s cat at the ferry landing.

Maidenmere is…
…the home of the cat familiars with telekinesis, where Aldwyn claims to be from. Stream Chaser and Kafar from Whistling Rock are some of the cats. The nasty Lord Malvern of the Mooncatchers doesn’t buy Aldwyn’s story.

Vastia is…
…ruled by Queen Loranella who is the second of the three wizards who fought the Dead Army Uprising 50-some years ago. Paksahara, a rabbit, is her familiar and has the ability to shapeshift.

Grimslade is an infamous bounty hunter who will kill any pest or vermin in exchange for jewels or coins. It’s said he hates cats because of his mother’s preference for them! He uses shadow hounds brewed by the Cave Shamans of Stalagmos and a forbidden Olfax tracking snout! The crazy Agdaleen is a gray-haired witch who lives in the Weed Barrens.

Mukrete was…
…the city where the Old Palace of Vastia had stood. The egotistical King Brannfalk, Loranella’s great-greats-grandfather, ruled two centuries ago. Now it houses the Hydra of Mukrete, what evolved from the seven dragons Brann kept: a shrieker, a fire breather, a tunneler, an acid spitter, the hive, the black tooth, and the python strangler.

Wyvern and Skull were evil mages who raised the Dead Army all those years ago and wrote Wyvern and Skull’s Tome of the Occult, a dangerous book about necromancy.

Familiars have their own special powers and are animal companions of witches, wizards, and other spellcasters. Ravens are good at mending wounds. Pocket dragons breathe fire. Chameleon crabs can make anyone blend in. Touching a riding lizard makes you small enough to ride it. Lightmares are noble horses who mend cracks in a land’s magic energy. A piranhadon is a fish that can walk on land.

A loyal is the person with whom a familiar bonds. A Beyonder travels. Horteus Ebekenezer was a great forest communer. Other magic teachers include Turnbuckle Academy and Sorceress Edna. Galleon is a recent graduate, and he and his familiar Banshee are off defending Split River. The Enchantaissance was a period of magical innovation and artistic wonder for humans (and is the true story of animals being the magic wielders). Orachnis Protho invented the Protho’s Lights. The Shifting Fortress is a secret stronghold.

Driftfolk are tattooed traveling merchants who sell beads and spices. Spyballs are eyeballs that spy. A valor staff indicates the respect of the village elder.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a study in blues with a colonial blue background and a navy blue pointy wizard’s hat around which the black-and-white Aldwyn is winding with the green Gilbert sitting in front on the brim, and Skylar flying at us above the title, her satchel spewing forth sparkles of light. The title is in an embossed old gold outlined in black and the authors’ names in yellow at the bottom. There’s a subtitle in the middle of the hat in the same yellow.

The title is plain as day, for it is about the adventures of The Familiars.