Due to a hectic week, the joys of Thanksgiving, and my laptop being broken, I did not in fact read this book this week. However, I did in fact read it three months ago and it's fantastic. Urchin of the Riding Stars is the first book of The Mistmantle Chronicles. There are three, with a fourth that either just came out or is about to come out, but unfortunately my library doesn't have any of the sequels so I've only read the first one.
I didn't really like the first six or eight chapters, in fact I nearly put the book down and moved on, but I was so glad I held on to the end. It's pretty obviously a Redwall read-alike. The first chapters introduce the setting, an island surrounded by mist, and a host of very expected Redwall stock characters. Urchin, a squirrel, arrived on the island during a meteor shower as a newborn baby who was then adopted into the society of the island with only a few animals knowing about the prophesies, etc., that accompanied him. There are some power-hungry nobles trying to take over the island! WHO can save us? Blah blah blah, blah.
BUT, after all that is out of the way, we really set into the good stuff. This is shorter and written more simply than Redwall, but it deals with different themes. I may be wrong, but I can't remember Redwall ever dealing with organized infanticide or demonic possession. Urchin does, and does it very, very well. Urchin has more focus on a political intrigue kind of plot, more internal intensity. There isn't a definite "The people inside are good and that horde over there is bad," but there IS a definite "these actions are good and these actions are bad."
As the book goes on the characters turn out to be much more developed than the first chapters would indicate. The plot becomes ever more complex, but isn't hard to follow and doesn't get bogged down. There are some religious themes, one of the best characters is a priest and they all pray to the Heart of the Island, but like the other themes I've mentioned it isn't quite pronounced, only there. The story sets up a series well, I hope the growing pains were worked out in this one and the second book can pick up where this one left off.
Overall, this was an excellent book, good for kids who like animal fantasy or people who like basic fantasy in general. It was similar in ways to the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel and to the Warriors series, maybe even similar to The Wind in the Willows in a way, or The Giver. It's suitable for all ages, but the younger a kid is the more I'd suggest discussion.
Buy Urchin of the Riding Stars