Review: The Pennymores & the Curse of the Invisible Quill

Jon Bigg

Feb 28, 2022

Parker Pennymore runs away from her overbearing parents and the bullies harassing her at school. Sure this sounds like a pretty standard start to a YA or middle-grade story until you figure out the twist: Parker is running away to write. The entertaining, literary warped world of the Pennymores introduces us to a place where writing is forbidden. This wonderfully twisted concept leads the reader to imagine how different life would be without the ability to read or write. Writing isn’t banned because books are filled with evil ideas. No, it’s forbidden because you write magic with a quill in this world, which eons before led to great battles between good magic writers (Serifs) and evil magic writers (Ravagers). The quill as the wand is such a fun visual that opens up so many new opportunities (as you’ll see once you get to the end).

“The zeal of the Illiterates moved beyond the rules against magic writing into the writing of any kind—letters, books, news, any symbols, and all teachings that could lead a child to learn to read or write.” Chapter 1


The Pennymores & the Curse of the Invisible Quill by Eric Koester (The Pennymores: Book 1)


Parker Pennymore runs away from her overbearing parents and the bullies harassing her at school. Sure this sounds like a pretty standard start to a YA or middle-grade story until you figure out the twist: Parker is running away to write. The entertaining, literary warped world of the Pennymores introduces us to a place where writing is forbidden. This wonderfully twisted concept leads the reader to imagine how different life would be without the ability to read or write. Writing isn’t banned because books are filled with evil ideas. No, it’s forbidden because you write magic with a quill in this world, which eons before led to great battles between good magic writers (Serifs) and evil magic writers (Ravagers). The quill as the wand is such a fun visual that opens up so many new opportunities (as you’ll see once you get to the end).


Parker Pennymore discovers a hidden room in the castle, revealing magic writers have already returned. She quickly sets off on a quest to find her kidnapped brother and uncover the truth of her family and its complex relationship with magic writing. And if you don’t come away loving the Pennymore sisters, then you just don’t have a heart (or a sibling).


Koester is a first-time novelist himself but brings a rich background in the literary world as a professor who has taught nearly 30 national and internationally awarded authors.

This first book in the anticipated series is rich and robust, with a unique plot, detailed characterization, and a complex fantasy world built on familiar characters but with an original spin through the lens of writing magic. JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) ushered in a great deal of young adult and middle-grade fantasy, and honestly, there’s quite a lot of derivative worlds built on magic schools, camps, or trips. But this is new, clever, and certainly intriguing. There’s a moment when a family of talking rabbits has a ‘selfie’ drawn with the Pennymore siblings that are incredibly memorable for me. This book was particularly gripping because Koester managed to take the plot, the characters, and a complex world in unusual directions while still maintaining the story’s believability.


Now I hope he doesn’t take years to write future books in the series (and a little internet sleuthing says he and his daughters who helped build the story and world aren’t planning to wait long to release book 2).


It’s a story of siblings overcoming odds to save one another. The book is masterfully done to let the reader experience the characters, and the dynamics between siblings are lovely. The book’s real magic (pun intended) is the complexity of the conflict. I had to go back and re-read later with multiple twists, surprises, intersections, and breadcrumbs.


I wasn’t sure about the intended age level. The Pennymores has sufficient complexity that older middle-grade readers and younger high school students will love. The book jacket lists this as ages 7-13. Any violence isn’t gratuitous or overly described, and there’s no romance, which makes me push this towards the middle to the upper end of that age group. I believe the Pennymores will have a lot of appeal to YA fantasy lovers who want plot complexity, a robust set of villains and complexity in the world, and emotional drama without a lot of grit.


Parents of younger readers will want to be aware that there are allusions to murder, attempted murder, peril, and more common things like running away, lying, magic fights, bullying, and other expected evil acts that do occur. There are those intense, action moments, battles, and villains doing villainous things, but mostly it feels like a book you could read as a read-aloud story too. It’ll remind you of the early Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Narnia books in those ways.


The book contains intricate character sketches, and art sprinkled throughout that offers diverse characters. My biggest complaint about the book is the number of characters, which sometimes felt like we didn’t get enough of some of the characters. Given that the book is intended as a series, it’s probably like what we found with Harry Potter, where JK Rowling teased the characters early and got to know them throughout the series. There was a fun, well-thought-out resolution to the first book, but undoubtedly several plot points, settings, and characters at the end that didn’t have closure. In particular, I wanted to know more about some of the places in Fonde and more about the parents, but I anticipate that was by design and will be explored in future books.


Elementary librarians should shelf this (and given the important role libraries play in the story, I suspect they will). Middle and high school libraries should also have this since I anticipate it’ll be a read that complements books like School of Good and Evil, later Harry Potter, and even Hunger Games. Public libraries with separate YA and Middle-Grade sections may have some decisions about where to shelve the Pennymores. At around 400 pages with longish chapters and a significant cast, this might not be the best read-aloud, but avid fantasy fans will undoubtedly love it. Strong Recommendation.


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