Nathan Miller & the Binding Birch wants to be the next childhood epic fantasy. It tries. It tries very hard. But it doesn't quite reach "Harry Potter meets Narnia" levels of epic, like it intended.
It was a good book - don't get me wrong, I had trouble putting it down once I started reading it. It's a good story. It's just...
The book is littered with typos. Not just spelling errors, or grammar mistakes, but random punctuation and words thrown in where they shouldn't be - like a sentence had been changed at the last minute, but not all of the words from the old sentence were erased. It constantly broke up the reading experience, since I had to keep backtracking to figure out what the sentence was supposed to say. And this is not a rough draft - this is a finished book.
Another problem was the fact that the book tries too hard to be an epic fantasy. I understand wanting to make your story big, but when the story involves eighteen main characters that all need to be developed...and that's me being generous. There's actually more main characters than that. I settled on only counting the fourteen main children (FOURTEEN), Caul, Caetis, and those two Ulfa wolves. Though you could argue that Karsh was a main character, and Broch, and Hazel...
That's the problem. The book tries to focus on Nathan as the "main" main character, but it doesn't even do that! The story is told from the perspective of Nathan, Thalia, AND Ruby, and it constantly jumps from one character to the next. It might work if the chapters were split up into clear categories of whose point of view the story is being told from at the moment, but it doesn't do that. It just jumps from one character to the next, sometimes in just under a paragraph. It'll describe what Ruby is feeling one second, and then suddenly we're back to Nathan.
Those were the biggest problems I had with the book.
Otherwise, the mythology behind the world is wonderful, and done in such great detail. I love how Cascadia's stories and myths feel like they could easily be a part of our own world. A lot of this book was setting up Cascadia, so there were a lot more of these stories than actual action, but I didn't mind. I found myself as anxious as the children to learn more about the history of the world.
Caetis is an awesome villain. I wish more of the book had focused on him. His story is tragic, and he's really nothing more than the fulfillment of the birch scroll prophecy. If things had worked out differently, he might not have been a such a bad guy. And the fact that he's only evil because of how things worked out makes you feel a bit sympathetic for him. His tribe left him to be murdered by wolves, when he was just a year old - why wouldn't he be angry? Caetis has a legitimate reason to want to attack the others. It makes him a more realistic character. Villains are stronger characters when they're not just doing evil for evil's sake...or for money, or power.
All this book really needs is a bit more focus. Clean up the typos, maybe choose one or two characters to focus the story on, and it would be even better. We'll see how things go in the sequel.
UPDATE: I fear I might actually be the first Caetis fangirl...