Title: The Hound of Rowan: Book One of The Tapestry
Author: Henry H. Neff
Rating: 4/5 stars
In Henry H. Neff's The Hound of Rowan: Book One of the Tapestry, we are introduced to Max McDaniels, a thirteen year old boy who stumbles upon a room in the Chicago Institute of Art where he finds a strange tapestry, whose pictures seem to move and produce music. After discovering the tapestry, he finds a note in his pocket telling him to expect a visitor who happens to work for Rowan Academy, a school that specializes in nurturing the talents of kids with special abilities.
Setting aside the inevitable HP comparison, I found myself enjoying this book immensely. The book follows Max's first year at Rowan, where he discovers that he may be in possession of powerful magic. There is a great, ancient evil that was thought destroyed but may not be, and a legion of followers who are working to help the ancient evil regain control. There are several other similarities to HP; Max turns out to be extraordinarily good at the school's chosen sport; he has the possibility of having a huge amount of power at his disposal that he is unaware of; the school becomes his safe haven from the Enemy; the town next door is privy to the secrets of the school, and the students are allowed to spend some of their free time there; Max starts a rivalry with another student almost immediately upon entering the school; there is even a kind-hearted giant who the kids befriend (in this case, a reformed ogre who works in the kitchens); there are some other similarities to HP, but revealing those would give away some of the story. For as much as the book does seem to mirror HP, there are just as many differences within the story to make it stand on its own; Max loves his family and doesn't want to stay at the school; the magic is tied directly to ancient Irish lore rather than a more fabricated background; there is also some science tied in with the magic behind the school, so while I can see where people would jump to the conclusion that Neff is trying to create his own version of HP, I just can't see it that way. He is trying to create a world that is entirely his, and just so happens to be using some of the same techniques that JK Rowling herself borrowed from other stories to create hers; because in all fairness JKR didn't come up with these ideas all on her own. She's just become really famous for it.
I'm giving it 4 stars because Neff knows how to move his story along and ties up the plot lines nicely, leaving just enough questions to make the sequel worthwhile. I would like to see fewer plot devices akin to HP; while I understand that it is hard to not compare YA books to HP these days, there did seem to be a few too many similarities. Neff has proven that he can create a world all his own, now I'd like to see him take it further in his own direction.