by Nikki Bennett. Middle Grade Fantasy
Nikki Bennett's Four Fiends is a fresh and imaginative story, a fun read with a good message for middle grade children (anywhere from about 8 or 9 up, I would say). Bits of history and mythology add to the fun.
The book opens with four chapters introducing four children from different parts of the world (Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, and the U.S.). While dealing with the issues of child lives, large and small, they discover--or are discovered by--four magical creatures. The "worms" become their friends and constant companions, visible only to themselves. When the time is right, each worm brings its child to an unnamed tropical beach where they meet and learn of their quest: they must find the four guardians of the world, and rescue them from the four fiends that hold them captive.
As the story progresses, each child in turn must take the lead and conduct one rescue. And, to their surprise, it is not their strengths that they must use, but their weaknesses. How each discovers his or her weakness, and what they do with them, is part of the pleasure of the story.
Ms. Bennett's writing is generally strong, with very few lapses in tone, and the four children are given distinct voices and personalities (if anything, they risk being too distinct--at times they narrowly avoid being stereotypical, but the lapses are minor). They are very human, with realistic flaws as well as natural feelings.
Four Fiends is an enjoyable read, and a positive story about overcoming (or using) your faults and weaknesses as well as your strengths. It is also a story about friendship and the ways in which it can overcome barriers. Throw in some mythological creatures from several cultures and a bit of history, and you've got a book well worth reading at 8 or 80.