With book 5 of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series, things explode. In many ways. In The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin we were introduced to a charming, magical world. By the time The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering is over, that world has expanded and become enormously complex and the dangers more frightening and sinister. As if they weren’t already after book 3!
Many of the plot points surrounding Rachel Griffin have enormous payoff. From revelations about the Master of the World and Amber to development with Nastasia and Astrid, L. Jagi Lamplighter gives us an incredibly satisfying continuation of a series that has become one of my primary go-to recommendations. If you haven’t started this series yet, do it. You won’t regret a second of the time spent diving into this world. The characters are well-developed and feel like real people.
With the Heer of Dunderberg loosed, nasty creatures cause problems across the campus of Roanoke Academy. Redcaps and an each-uisge feature in their own little adventures and that’s one of the fun things about this series. There is a slice of life element to Rachel’s experiences at the school. They don’t detract from the story, but add to it and make the world the characters inhabit feel much more full and lively than a certain other magical school series that will illicit automatic comparisons. This series is much better than that one, however.
Most satisfying for me were the developments surrounding Rachel’s friendship issues. Hints of what might come surrounding Astrid and Nastasia took some turns I wanted to see happen and some turns that I didn’t expect (partly due to the fact that Rachel is a much more kind person than she would probably ever give herself credit for).
As a parent, the plotline surrounding Rachel, her family, and Amber was wrenching. L. Jagi Lamplighter delves into the (sometimes) horrifying consequences of altering memories and perceptions via magic. You’d have to be an automaton to not have to blink back tears while reading this volume. The moral choices that Rachel has to make toward the end are more poignant and overwhelming than anything I’ve read in other YA fantasy. Or much other fantasy in general, for that matter. I was holding my breath reading the build-up to the final stroke (or roar, in this case).
And this brings me to Leander. If memory serves me correctly, L. Jagi Lamplighter said in an interview that she prays before writing scenes involving the comfort lion. It shows. It shows enormously and helps explain why those scenes are so perfect. The mysteries surrounding Leander and Jariel come more and more to the fore as the series progresses and has become one of my favorite aspects to this ongoing tale.
And of course, there is more Siggy and Lucky the Dragon. The ridiculousness surrounding those two is always a treat.
There are angels, demons, magical lightning throwing imps, and even a masquerade. I can’t wait for the next book.
If you’re looking for a great story about a magic school, read this. Rachel Griffin is one of the most likable heroines I’ve read. Most female protagonists I’ve read don’t feel feminine or have a solid moral compass. Rachel has both and is an incredibly endearing kid that comes off as very real. If you loved Harry Potter and are looking for another magical school fix, you should find this series much more engrossing and satisfying.
The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering challenges Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland for the place of my favorite book in the series.
Buy a copy here if you’ve read the first four books.
If you haven’t, the first book can be found here.