Book Review: The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle

Book Bag - The Ruby Key

A couple weeks ago, the Little One and I finished The Ruby Key, a youth fantasy novel by Holly Lisle. As you can see, we gave our paperback quite a workout; it was brand new when we started. She—that is, the Little One—then collected 10 items from of the story for a “Book Bag,” a show-and-tell project she and her classmates do in school.

(Her 10 items, in the picture from upper-left to lower-right: a dog, a cat, a vial [partially hidden below the yellow plastic container], a red key [inside the yellow plastic container], a walking stick, the moon, a bell, a giant worm with sharp teeth, a boot, a backpack.)

The Little One’s classmates enjoyed her presentation, and one even asked to borrow the book. But apparently, she didn’t make it very far through. In any case, here are our online reviews of The Ruby Key.

(See especially the Little One’s review, which proves that, yes, I am really smarter than a 5’th grader!)


My Review

Holly portrays wonderful characters, led along an exciting adventure, in a vibrant fantasy world. All of this is the excellence you’d expect from Holly Lisle. ‘Nuff said.


Genna, the narrator and main character of the story, was more clueless than I would have liked… and more shallow than any of Holly’s other characters. I’m not sure what happened here, but at certain critical junctures in the story, I found myself wondering how Genna would react, even though I felt I should have known. Yes, I knew she would step up to the plate and do “the right thing,” because that’s what fantasy heroines do. But I felt as though I didn’t truly understand what was happening inside Genna’s heart and mind. I really didn’t feel I knew who Genna was, except that she felt confused and incompetent and little, until it was time to do “the right thing,” when she acted blindly (sometimes on misinformation) so that everything could just happen to turn out okay.

But what was Genna’s struggle in all this? And how did she grow? I don’t know. Or rather, I could more easily get inside the heads of the other characters, even though Genna’s were the thoughts on the page.

That’s not to say that I had no sympathy for Genna. I had lots of sympathy, and maybe that’s all that Holly (or her editor?) was trying to accomplish with the character: lots of sympathy, but make Genna the “every American girl” character, full of self-doubt, but with little personality of her very own, ready to be filled with the identity of whomever is reading the story… I doubt it.

I do not say this lightly. In fact, I say it with great personal burden, because I adore Holly’s writing, every story of hers I have ever read. I also feel I owe a great personal debt to Holly, because her writing and instruction helped me find myself as a writer. (But that’s a story for a different post.)

Fortunately, the remaining characters, as well as the other elements of the story, more than made up for Genna’s weaknesses. The cat, in particular, intrigued me and kept me on my toes. Even Danrith, I saw the growth in his character, and his journey made me feel accomplishment.

I do plan to read the second book in the series, which says more about how much liked the book than a thousand words could. As a counter-example, I never read the second book in Philip Pullman’s famed series, because the first let me down. Holly Lisle’s first book, however, did not me down. So that should give you a clue as to how strongly I liked it.

5 stars

The Little One’s Review

(BTW, she’s 10 years old, in 5’th grade. -TimK)

It was totally fantasy and adventure. And the way Holly Lisle described the action sequences, I could see everything that was happening in my head.


She used a lot of words I didn’t understand, but my dad explained them to me.

I’m already looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

(In fact, as of the time this review is being posted, the Little One has already begun reading The Silver Door. She reads it in school during the day, and I find that I now have a hundred or so pages of catch-up to do. -TimK)

4½ stars.

In summary

The Ruby Key is a full-length juvenile fantasy novel, suitable for the high side of the age range, but well within reach even of a 9- or 10-year-old, especially with Mom or Dad’s help. We both heartily recommend it.


4 responses to “Book Review: The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle”

  1. […] The Silver Door, Holly Lisle’s second Moon & Sun book, because the Little One and I both enjoyed The Ruby Key, the first book in the […]

  2. […] The Ruby Key: Over at J. Timothy King’s Be The Story, a dad and daughter duo review the youth fantasy novel, which is a first in series by Holly Lisle. (And you get to see the 10 story related items the daughter collected for her show-and-tell “Book Bag” school project too!) […]

  3. CADORA Avatar

    the book was awsome and iloved a 100% and it put me in that world like i was their pleese make a movie pleese just be a fantasy you know

  4. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Wonderful! BTW, Holly has announced that she is working on the third Moon & Sun book. We await with bated breath.

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