The Language of Spells

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

A beautiful and well-built setting, but overall I didn’t find the story very interesting. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC. However this review is based on the published edition, as that is what I ended up reading.
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Fun book that I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to review. Well written with interesting characters.

*ARC via netgalley*
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The Language of Spells reads like a middle-grade book written for adults. The author attempted an archaic writing style (I think it's translated. Never a pro.). The humor, such as it is, is so subtle it is barely there. The characters lack spark and defiance, and just kind of quietly exist as weirdos. The ending, where the magic just kind of fades away, perfectly matches the uncertain feeling I felt throughout the whole story--if magic really exists in this pseudo-historical world, why is it so boring?
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An average middle grade fantasy.  Some creative world building, although I also found some gaps in logic.  Dragons are a perennial favorite, so while it's not outstanding, I have no hesitations suggesting it to upper elementary readers looking for something new.
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*** I was provided with a free e-arc of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ***

DNF at 17%. I just had a hard time getting into this one for some reason. 😕
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A girl and a dragon team up to save other dragons who have been imprisoned. During their quest they become best friends and explore various locations in Europe, all with an evil sorcerer hunting them. Author Garret Weyr misses the mark by a wide margin in the dragging novel The Language of Spells.

After a long enchantment as a teapot, Benevolentia “Grisha” Gaudium finds himself in Vienna. Other dragons have also arrived in the city, answering an inexplicable call only they could hear. Grisha didn’t hear the call, but he finds out from a dear human friend that the other dragons are headed for Austria and Grisha knows he must go too.

He arrives at the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna and meets more dragons than he has in many years. Life was lonely as a teapot. His new friend circle includes dragons who have experienced all sorts of adventures; while he finds their bragging a little tiresome, he’s happy to be among his own kind again.

Soldiers have the task of keeping the dragons organized. Grisha gets a job in one of the castles along the Danube river. Other dragons also get assigned work, and the Department of Extinct Exotics, or D.E.E., is formed to make sure the dragons stay on task. Dozens of the dragons go missing, however, and Grisha and his friends don’t know why.

Then Grisha meets Anna “Maggie” Marguerite. Maggie and her father live in the Hotel Sacher. They moved there after Maggie’s mother dies in a terrible accident, although Maggie has no memory of the accident or of her mother. Maggie finds in Grisha her first friend, and the two become inseparable. They explore the city together, and Maggie is thrilled that Grisha doesn’t eye her in a strange way as children do when she asks questions. He’s more than happy to provide answers or help her find them.

Except he can’t answer the question about the missing dragons. Why were they banished? Who made the decision to send those dragons away? Most importantly: where did they go?

Grisha seems reluctant to consider any of these matters. After all those years under the enchantment, he doesn’t want to jeopardize his position with the D.E.E. and come under scrutiny himself. He also can’t ignore Maggie’s questions, however, and soon enough the two set out on a mission: to find the missing dragons and free them. 

Author Garret Weyr takes an interesting concept and lets it unravel, much to the novel’s detriment. The book stands at 299 pages, and Maggie and Grisha don’t meet until almost a third of the way into the story. Weyr spends the first third of the book describing Grisha’s life both before and during his enchantment as a teapot, taking up precious story real estate. Some of the elements are interesting, but many of them were unnecessary. 

The sluggish pace continues even after Maggie and Grisha become friends. The moments they share are sweet and a constant gentle reminder to readers that friendships can come with “beings” [read: people] of all different backgrounds and looks. Weyr offers many examples of this tenet, sacrificing pacing and plot development in the process. 

Many unexplained things about the world of magic stay that way with the book’s omniscient narrator using phrases like, “No one knew why…”. Readers might appreciate some of the mystery, but part of a book’s charm is to find out secrets. The target audience, while younger, may not appreciate this constant cloak-and-dagger approach to underdeveloped story elements.

While the ending may surprise many, it will take an incredibly patient reader to get there. Maggie and Grisha are likeable as characters, endearing even, but the story around them doesn’t do them or their friendship any justice. I recommend readers Bypass The Language of Spells.
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They say you can't judge a book by its cover and often that is true. However, a cover can grab your attention, entice you to pick it up and riffle its pages, and read enough to know if it will hold your interest,

So it was for me for me with The Language of Spells.

The cover offers the promise of adventure with its dragon gazing into the starry night and adventure is what you get with this story.  This is a magical, mystical tale. Don't miss out! #TheLanguageOfSpells #NetGalley
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The Language of Spells it's a tale of dragons. The main characters are Maggie, an eleven-year-old human and Grisha a young dragon.

Grisha was taken from his home at a young age by a sorcerer. He was turned into a teapot for decades until his current owner figured out a way to release him. He is told that all the Dragons are flying to Germany. Grish leaves for Germany right away. But Dragons are not free. They all have to register and are assigned a job under the close supervision of the guards. Some dragons have disappeared too. They were separated from family and friends. Some, not to be seen again.

When Grisha meets Maggie, they become fast friends. Grisha starts remembering things thanks to Maggie and they both will embark on a quest to save all the dragons.

Sadly, I will say this novel didn't keep my attention. The ending was not what I was hoping for. The resolution of the conflict was way too easy. 

I was hoping for so much more.

Thank you Netgalley and Chronicle Books for my providing me with a copy of the Language of Spells by Garret Weyr.

2/5 Fangs
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The dragon Grisha, real name Benevolentia Gaudium, was born in 1803, the last year of dragon births special or otherwise. His story, told by Garret Weyr in The Language of Spells, will suit anyone who loves a good old-fashioned fairy tale, although the suggested audience is for middle grade readers. 

Early on, the wicked Leopold turns Grisha into a teapot. Few people are able to see him or any other dragons for that matter. He is stuck in a world where “Dragons had once been part of how people brought magic into the world but now the world, it was plain to see, had no use for either.” In fact, someone decided the world had too many dragons and, based on eye color, allowed some to roam freely while others were hidden and put into a permanent sleep.

After his confinement through two World Wars, Grisha is released from the teapot and forms a friendship with Maggie, a lonely half-orphaned child schooled by a rather lenient father. Magic will help them solve the mystery and problem of the lost dragons, but at a cost. Performing magic requires that one give up something precious – time, money, or something dearly loved. 

The characters in this whimsical book intrigued me. There is Maggie to whom I related because she knows for herself that she has not inherited her dead mother’s painting talent “. . . no matter how careful she was, her figures were always potato-like lumps trying to be something other than potatoes.” Grisha, the dragon, hated all stories beginning with once upon a time. And then there was the cat that Maggie realized was rude just because. It wasn’t personal. 

Wisdom came in finding the truth about where the magic really is that was thought to be in the unicorn’s horn to cure illness, but the best advice came from Lennox, the old dragon. “Everyone can look at the world, but only those who pause to see what is wrong can change it.”

A middle grader will enjoy the story line. Some of them and those who are older will piece together the allegory that is for all time.
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Update: This book seems especially relevant read nowadays with our government keeping immigrants prisoner. It's a decent metaphor (though not perfect), with some good lessons about imprisoning other people. 

A dragon and an 11 year old girl become friends and go on a quest to free dragons that are under a sleeping curse, imprisoned beneath Vienna. Talking cats, an evil magician who turns Grisha into a teapot, and a strong lesson in discrimination feature in this fantasy novel with pencil-sketch illustration sprinkled in. 

Grisha the dragon was a teapot for hundreds of years. After being freed, he finds out all the dragons have been drawn to Vienna and goes there to be with them. The dragons are not free to leave Vienna, and are subject to heavy regulation and strict enforcement. They gather nightly in the bar at the Sacher Hotel, where young Maggie lives with her father Alexander, a poet. Her artist mother died years ago. She finds friendship with Grisha, and after he remembers that half the dragons have been imprisoned, they embark on a quest to free them. The evil magician who imprisoned Grisha in a teapot all those years ago is the one who has cursed the dragons. Maggie learns about magic, travels with Grisha, and eventually they find a way to free the sleeping dragons. There is a sad twist at the end. (view spoiler)

The book would be great read aloud, it really lends itself to that. I thought the segregation and oppression of the dragons was well done, and would be a good lesson for kids without being overwhelming. The ending felt abrupt to me, I was very surprised to turn the page at the end and be done! [We do not find out if Maggie ever saw dragons again, and we never find out if Leopold the evil magician dies, or if the cats are freed, or what happens to the awoken dragons. (hide spoiler)] Maggie is a smart character, I would be happy for my daughter to read this book with a strong female lead.
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My thanks to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.  

I was not a huge fan of this book.  It was the ending I think, it was just so bleak!

ENDING WILL BE DISCUSSED, SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The book is a fantasy alternate history, where magic, dragons and other magical creatures exist.  The meat of the story takes place after WWII where this 11 year old girl with a unique upbringing becomes friends with a unique dragon.  The little girl's oddness due to her upbringing makes it difficult for her to find friends her age.  This will speak to children who see themselves, or who society sees, as "not normal", so that's positive.  Because she makes friends with other "not normal" creatures.  

But the ending is horrific.  The book has a thread of hope winding all through it, with the girl finding friends and trying to find a way to help them.  Unfortunately, magic has it's exact price and in order to save the 72 dragons under a spell of sleep, she has to give up money, time or the most important thing to her, which in this case is being able to see and encounter magic and magical creatures.  

In order to save, she has to sacrifice her friends.  

Let me repeat that, in a different way.

This lonely little girl, who FINALLY makes a few friends, has to GIVE THEM UP in order to right a wrong.  

Is this a coming of age story?  Like, the dragons and magic aren't real, she's giving them up by moving into adulthood?  But it doesn't seem to flow that way.  Her father and other adults around her can see and interact with these magical creatures.  Some of them at any rate.  

I don't really get it and it made me very sad.  I would give this a 2.5, but no half stars, so I have to go up or down.  I'm going with down to a 2 star on this one because that ending was just too sad and depressing.  Yes, I know, kids eat that stuff up, but as an old, tired, cynical adult, I need more HEA, if not in real life, then in my fiction.  I read to escape reality, not to have it rear up and smack me in the face saying "FOOLED YOU!"

This book had promise and I am sure this would do well with young readers, but the ending soured it for me.
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This was adorable. It was very The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, if The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was set in historical Vienna. It’s slow and quirky and bittersweet, beautifully written and full of unique characters.

I almost don’t know what to say about it other than to tell you what it’s about, because telling you what it’s about would be telling you exactly what’s good about it. A world that meshes historical fiction and magic, a world in which dragons can drink and tell stories in a hotel bar and cats who are sometimes humans can run a government agency. A friendship between a dragon and an unusual girl willing to do anything, to be as brave as necessary, to help her first and only friend. A story that stretches from the unicorn-haunted forests of Germany to London during WWII to a Vienna that has lost its dragons.

It’s all perfect and original and overall a fun read. The concept of having to give up something precious to you in order to use magic gives it depth. I would say the conclusion to the mystery seemed a little too easy in some ways, but the end of the story is about more than that.

I had only one real disappointment: the lack of any mention of the holocaust, despite the time period, setting, and Jewish-coded characters. It was a weird hole in the setting.

But I love Grisha and Maggie and her unusual father and the magical cats and even, though I wasn’t sure at the time, the ordeal Grisha goes through to become who he is. Absolutely recommended for a bittersweet middle grade fantasy.
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Rating: 3.5 stars

[Excerpt]:
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

[[As always, spoilers abound!]]

Dragons. My love for dragons knows no bounds. I think it really started – and by “it” here I mean my obsession – when I got into Game of Thrones. I became enraptured by Daenerys and her relationship with her three dragons. So of course, ever since then, I’ve been seeking out books that incorporate dragons. Another early series that really got me hooked on the idea of dragons, especially dragons that could communicate with humans, was Eragon. His relationship with his dragon was so precious and amazing. When I first saw the cover of this book, I thought, “Okay, give me all the dragons.” I love magic, and fantasy, and the notion of “spells,” so combined with my dragon obsession, this book was totally in my line of sight.

The Language of Spells is a really…the word “gentle” comes to mind….book. The characters are all so sweet and polite, Grisha and Maggie especially.  The story revolves around a little girl and her friend dragon, who had a really terrible start to life. He was imprisoned, in one form or another, up until the current events in the book. And yet he managed to retain his overall gentle and sweet demeanor.  Maggie was a great character too, for even though she was very young, she was relatable. She was lonely and felt too different and displaced from everyone else and where she lived (a hotel).

I really liked that the book started out from Grisha’s perspective and that the story told of his beginning, his adventures before he met Maggie, and then his adventures with her. I like having that bit of background information, especially since dragons are usually so mysterious. Not to mention these dragons were different in that they “scale to size” – that is, they could get bigger or smaller according to the room size or if they need to take on specific tasks, like flying or attacking someone. Not to mention, the dragons aren’t secret, even though there’s only a few left. They’re seen as relatively normal – by those who can actually see them – and they’re sometimes even ignored! As I said before, Grisha was so polite and optimistic, despite having been imprisoned as a teapot (a la Beauty and the Beast!) for nearly a hundred years. He was such a great character, purely because of his happy demeanor.
[Full review on my blog!]
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Goodreads Rating: 3 stars

Beautifully written, but slow and a with an abrupt, predictable ending.

Grisha is one of the last dragons in the world, and has had an interesting life, having lived much of his younger years as a teapot. He ends up moving to Vienna, due to a requirement by the government after World War 2, becomes a tour guide at a castle, and befriends Maggie, a socially awkward and independent young girl. Together they try and figure out what happened to many of the dragons who had moved to Vienna after the war and along the way become fast friends.

This is an excellent story of friendships between misfits (Grisha, the youngest dragon in the world who has never fought in battle; Maggie, who lives in a hotel with her father and doesn’t attend school), sacrificing what you love for the greater good, and how important memories can be.

Magical realism tends to be a slow genre with lovely writing, as this book is, but the build up to Grish meeting Maggie is quite long–Maggie doesn’t get introduced until about one-third of the way through the story. The first third focuses solely on Grisha’s life and history and feels disproportionate to Maggie’s story, which is interwoven with her adventures with Grisha. It’s an enjoyable backstory though, and does make some sense, seeing as Grisha is much older; I wasn’t bored with it and it does play a part throughout the rest of the book, making it an important part of the story.

The ending is the exact opposite of the beginning, the story being wrapped up in the last chapter, without any epilogue chicking back in on Maggie or Grisha and how their actions affected the world months or years after the final chapter. Most everything was wrapped up, but a bit more would have rounded out the story nicely.

If you or your kid(s) need a fast-paced, action filled book, this probably isn’t going to be for you. But if slower stories and invisible magical worlds are, I’d definitely recommend it!
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Please see my review on Reading Rumpus: https://www.readingrumpus.com/2018/06/the-language-of-spells-by-garret-weyr.html
Review also published on Library Thing and GoodReads, as well as Twitter and Facebook promoted.
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I received an advance reader galley of The Language of Spells from NetGalley. It is about Grisha, a dragon who has just broken free of an enchantment that turned him into a teapot for years, and a little girl named Maggie who lives with her father at a hotel in Vienna. Both characters are told that they would be special, but neither character really understands why they would be considered special.   When Grisha and Maggie learn that there are a group of dragons that have been separated from the other dragons and basically banished, they wonder how they can help. Maggie also wonders how she can enjoy normal,  everyday activities, like eating almond cake at shops, while there are things that are really wrong happening in her city. This book examines themes of friendship, inner strength and the fact that sometimes people need to sacrifice something in their own life for the benefit of the others.
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Grisha is one of the last dragons left in the world. When he befriends Maggie, a lonely young girl in a Viennese hotel, the two set off to solve the decades-old mystery of what happened to many of the other dragons who survived World War II. 

I wanted to love this book based on the description and cover art, but it never grabbed me the way I wanted it to. I still think the premise of dragons in Vienna is very intriguing, but I found the actual execution of the story dissatisfying. The story started out slow and fable-like, but I was always more invested in the human stories than in Grisha's. Even so, I never really connected to Maggie, and the two friends' quests to solve the mystery felt a little pointless. Vienna itself felt like it should have jumped off the page-- it's such a different and precise setting for a children's book-- but the descriptions were more real in the places Grisha went as a teapot. I'm also disappointed that the depths of humanity's darkness was illustrated by its treatment of dragons. Why set this book so precisely in a version of our world with our world wars if you're not going to address them at all?  They feel like an odd and disconnected way to anchor the book's timeline. 

I did enjoy the idea of the sacrifice inherent in doing magic, which was used to good effect. Some other aspects of the book must have affected me, because I found the conclusion genuinely moving. In the end, that bumped this up to a three-star read for me, despite my many nitpicky dissatisfactions. I think this will find readers in my library, but I'm sad this won't be the dragon book I'll be pushing into patrons' hands all summer.
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The artwork was engaging and the story matched, this is one of those books that you buy in hardback and keep on the shelf because flipping through the pages would be such a joy.
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The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, has a certain whimsical charm to it at times, and the warm relationship at its core is a definite plus, but it has a good number of issues that mar the reading experience, though probably less so for a younger audience.

The dragon Grisha is born in the Black Forest in a world where magic is on the wane. After a few decades of maturation (though still young in dragon terms), he’s enchanted by a sorcerer who turns him into a teapot. He lives his life in that trapped stage for many more decades, through both World Wars. Eventually he ends up in Vienna, kept like the few other remaining dragons, under tight surveillance by the bureaucracy.  It is there he meets and bonds with eleven-year-old Maggie. Together the two decided to go on a quest to find and free a large group of dragons rumored to have gone missing. 

The relationship between Maggie and Grisha is the best part of The Language of Spells, warmly, gently endearing with more than a whiff of melancholy to it thanks to both having suffered loss in their lives—Maggie’s mother died when she was very young and Grisha, in combination to his lost decades, has his own absences to grieve. 

Also a positive is the parallels that run between the storyline here and real-life events of WWII and afterward, with refugees, forced detention, and the like.  Weyr offers up some serious questions about how good people turn away from evil, what it means to lose one’s openness to wonder, the impact of power on an individual, sacrifice, and more. 

Finally, there are some lovely moments of whimsy and magic here, such as the aforementioned transformation of Grisha into a teapot, and a few other such details.

On the down side, there are a lot of problems with the novel. The opening 60 or so pages, pre-Vienna, are a lot of at first exposition and then a lot that didn’t really feel particularly necessary.  The opening isn’t helped by a bit of a twee narrative voice that had me considering giving up for the first 10 or 12 pages or so (that style did get dropped). I’d have recommended cutting it in half at least if not simply dropping it altogether. Later other parts seem to go by too quickly or conversely, we spend a little too long on some scenes. Some scenes feel contrived and the quest is relatively passive and repetitive. 

The world-building is quite thin; I never really understood how dragons fit into this world. Even in little pragmatic details like how they hang around in a hotel bar—are they on all fours? Using human chairs?  And there’s a fair amount of hand-waving things away. 

And lastly, I wish those parallels between real world events would have been made a bit more pointed. As it is, it’s hard to imagine most young readers picking up on them, though I’d certainly hope an adult who reads it with their child would use it as a springboard for conversation. 

In many ways, The Language of Spells has more negatives than positives, which would lead one would think to a clear “do not recommend” review. But honestly, I so enjoyed the camaraderie between the two protagonists so much that I’m going to give it a “recommend with major reservations,” with an additional caveat that my complaints will probably matter much less to younger readers, which makes me feel more comfortable with the recommendation.
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This is an adorable middle grade book and I might have teared up just a bit finishing it... the illustrations really add to the story.  it was a nice quick read perfect for fans of the girl who circumvented fairyland.
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