The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A.R. Cook

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter

The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx

The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx (Knox Robinson Publishing, 2013) is a fantasy coming-of-age story appropriate for middle-graders and beyond. The storytelling is imaginative, vivid in description, complimented with sparkling prose and shining vocabulary that a teacher would love. A.R. Cook’s treatment of language is reminiscent of E.B. White (Elements of Style, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little) who once said in an interview with the Paris Review relating to his writing to a young audience that “…You have to write up, not down… They [children] accept without question anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly and clearly.” Cook clearly does this throughout her story. Young readers have many opportunities to stop and ponder word choice and appreciate the many beautiful phrases and well-crafted sentences found within the pages.

The setting is 1852 in a small hamlet outside of Paris, the magical city of light that holds more than just a dream apprentice job for newly-arrived, sixteen-year-old architect-protégé, David Sandoval. While meandering through an evening crowd filled with street dancers, jugglers, and entertainers, David is coerced by a young gypsy girl into purchasing a dagger. This purchase inadvertently sets him on a dangerous and noble path, traversing between two worlds. Mythical creatures beckon and pursue David as he becomes a reluctant player an ancient war between a maleficent goddess and an iconic creature, part-human and part-animal—the sphinx, who is the last of its kind and is at heart of David’s adventure.

David’s quest takes him through a gateway called the “Magic Curtain” to unseen places where he meets curious new friends and enemies along the way. Some of the supporting characters rival and, at times, surpass the young protagonist with their voice and charm: characters such as Kappo, the comical green, vampire monkey; Tanuki, the shape-shifting Japanese badger; and David’s wise, sea-dragon master, Yofune, who, like Yoda, counsels the young hero against prejudices.

“What defines monstrosity?” Yofune folded his hands… “Is it having a form that is not acceptable? Is it how sharp your teeth are, or if you have claws instead of fingernails? Or does it reside in some invisible shape, inside all of us, Sandoval-san?”

Cook balances these supporting characters with several antagonists that disrupt David’s plans. Unexpected cliffhangers and daring escapes propel the story to its climax. Interestingly, part of the story is told in flashback form that reveals a secondary theme. As David searches for something tangible, his journey is also internalized as he is forced to face his past disappointments and learn from them.

Readers who enjoy high fantasy epic stories will like A.R. Cook’s cross-genre debut novel that combines world culture, mythology, and magic within a historical context.


A.R. Cook is the book reviewer for the Gainesville Times in Northeast Georgia. Her first young adult novel is The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx (Knox Robinson Publishing, 2013). Her story “Derry’s Down, Deary” won the gold award in Toasted Cheese’s Three Cheers and a Tiger Writing Contest in the June 2013 issue. In 2011, she placed Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition for her play, Major Arcana, and in WD’s Science Fiction contest for short story, Psycho Babbles. She has also written a short play, In the Cards, published by Heuer Publishing in 2002, and a short story, The Saintly Stew, published in the Georgia Museum of Art’s Kress Project anthology this year 2013. She likes sushi and sundaes (but not together).

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]

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