The Pennymores and the Curse of the Invisible Quill by Eric Koester – review

The Pennymores is a delightful, gripping, fast-paced fantasy adventure novel that harkens to predecessors from Narnia and The Hobbit to the more recent Percy Jackson, The School of Good and Evil, and Harry Potter. And like all these beloved middle-grade books, the Pennymores offers readers its own unique, daring, and delightful twist on the genre that begs for a sequel (and maybe a movie, television show, or animated series, we hope).

The Pennymores is told through the eyes of Parker Pennymore, a rebellious, troublemaking eleven-year-old who makes clear from the first chapters of the book that we are in for an adventure. It’s nearly impossible not to root for Parker.

“Look, no eleven-year-old sets out to start a rebel alliance, but as the leader of the Plumes, the largest secret writing society in all of Everly, it’s my duty. Isn’t it?

Does that make me some kind of troublemaker? 

I guess if that all counts as trouble, then yeah, you can call me a troublemaker. Turns out, someone needs to be.”

This is where the Pennymores take its cue: Parker Pennymore is a writer.  And for centuries, writing has been forbidden. Parker soon discovers why writing has been banned when she stumbles into an enchanted library in her home where books fly like birds, paper folds itself into creatures, shelves move like a maze, inkwells perform like an orchestra, and writing quills move like hummingbirds. Magic writing has returned, and with it, everything she knew to be true is flipped on its head.

Parker and her sisters Quinn (13) and Aven (8) must escape from their island kingdom, discover hidden magical realms, and attempt to stop a growing conflict between the magical and nonmagical creatures. The family’s complex past colors the journey, and what the siblings learn of their own futures. The story’s got that save-the-day pace to it that makes the book hard to put down.

Part of the intrigue of the story is the complexity the characters must navigate.  Not only is all writing banned, but a roving band of vigilantes known as the Illiterates attempts to intimidate and punish any underground writers.  (Seasoned readers may get Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451 vibes from these bad guy characters). The world-building is superb as we learn how a society operates without writing including its commerce (imagine selling things you can’t even write down its price), its schools (no more books and essays), and even its lore, myths, and stories (a library is now filled with oral storytellers you ‘check out’ to tell you stories).  The book deftly weaves a story that reveals more and more about this complex world, while keeping the reader guessing through the twists and turns of the important quest they undertake.  

While Pennymores offers a new twist on the genre, the book is still driven by the characters. First and foremost, the Pennymore siblings are nuanced, delightful, and their interactions are what we’d expect from sisters.  But beyond them, there are the members of this secret writing society (The Plumes) who give us a band of misfits and outcasts you can’t help but root for, plus a series of magical and mystical creatures who just scratch the surface of who may fill this world.  You only wish you could get to know this varied cast further, but I suspect there are future books ahead to give us what we want.  

Fans of the fantasy greats from Harry and Percy to Lucy and Frodo will be delighted to meet the Pennymores.  Filled with magical and mystical settings, unique and fun magical creatures, and complex and nuanced villains, the story is wonderful to read and hard to put down.  

There’s a welcome familiarity to the book’s quests, the heroes, and the journey, but it’s these clever, unique, and complex twists and surprises, the new spin on magic and a centuries-old conflict, and the fun dynamic that can only come from siblings that give the Pennymores its charm and splendor. 

The Pennymores & the Curse of the Invisible Quill is an exceptional book that will delight its middle-grade and young adult readers (aged 7 to 14) and will be a guilty pleasure for the rest of us who love fun, magical fantasy stories such as Narnia, Schools of Good & Evil, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson & more.

LA Weekly