I’m back with the previously promised review of the second book in The Nocturals series, The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht. It’s taken us a few days longer to finish this book; I feel like this series could accomplish its storytelling goals with at least 50 fewer pages. Some of scenes feel a bit unnecessary or dragged out so I would suggest you keep in mind the attention span of the child you’ll be reading this book to. It is entertaining and suspenseful; it’s just a tad bit long.
With that said, I really do feel that The Ominous Eye is, for the most part, enjoyable. It is again centered around The Nocturnal Brigade; the confident leader, Dawn the fox, the gentle but skittish pangolin Tobin and the plucky, overly confident, Bismark the sugar glider. The action starts almost immediately with an extreme event rocking the peaceful forest that the animals call home. Something mysterious has fallen from the sky, creating total chaos and panic. Ash clouds the air, making it difficult to see and breathe. The ground is shaking, fire is erupting from below the surface; it’s utter pandemonium all around.
To the human reader, it might be easy to deduce that an asteroid or meteor has struck, resulting in earthquakes and possibly volcanic eruptions. But to the animals in the story, there is no easy answer for what has happened to disturb their peaceful existence. The Brigade travels towards the point of impact, where they find a massive hole in the earth. They also observe, to their horror, that a large beastly shaped figure is lying at the bottom of the crater. It’s difficult to make out exactly what they’re seeing but they instinctively know that it’s dangerous. They also know that they have to find out what it is!
A new character is introduced to the Brigade, in the form of Polyphema, a peculiar tuatara. She claims to have an all-seeing third eye on top of her head. I had to look up what a tuatara was and it’s true that some do have an ‘eye’ on their heads, though it doesn’t have sight. Polyphema tells the team that not only can she normal things through her third eye, she can see the future. She warns that there is in fact a beast now roaming the wilderness and he is not happy that others are inhabiting what he considers to be his ‘territory’. There will be a terrible price to pay if the animals of the forest don’t move to another area immediately.
Tobin and Bismark are quickly won over by the tuatara, allowing their fear and discomfort to cloud their thinking. I can’t fault them for wanting a quick answer to the dangerous situation they have suddenly found themselves in. Even if it means that a terrible beast is now roaming the area, at least Polyphema is providing an answer as to what’s going on. Dawn, however, remains unconvinced. This is why the Brigade, as well as the other forest dwellers, are lucky to have her in charge. She has questions for the all-seeing tuatara, questions that she doesn’t feel are answered very truthfully. She’s leery of the sudden newcomer and as the reader, I have to say, I’m with Dawn.
The trio, along with Polyphema, agree to split up, with the intent of locating other animals in the area. Tobin and Bismark set off together. Polyphema almost immediately heads off in the opposite direction on her own. Dawn pretends that she plans to rest, but she actually trails the tuatara to a strange fortress-like structure constructed of stones. Dawn has never seen it before and she’s not able to climb the walls to get a better look. She can hear Polyphema’s voice, though. It’s very low so Dawn is only able to hear a mummering but it’s clear that she’s talking to someone. When Polyphema leaves the fortress, Dawn follows her again, back to their original meeting place.
By this time, Tobin and Bismark have found other survivors, who are of course terrified by the recent events. It appears that in everyone’s absence, the beast crawled out of the crater and is now hiding in an unknown location. Polyphema is then urged by the pangolin and the sugar glider to share the prophecies she has seen. Filled with dread by the sudden disappearance of the beast and the grim predictions of the tuatara, the animals quickly determine that the best plan to rid themselves of the beast is to create a net out of vines, which they will stretch over the crater. They will then lure the beast back to the crater, at which time he will be caught in the net and unable to cause any harm to the others. The jerboas from the last book are tasked with working on weaving the net from above and the various birds of the forest from underneath. Working together, the animals make surprising progress.
Dawn tries to share her concerns with her friends, even taking Tobin and Bismark to the fortress. They remain unconvinced that Polyphema is up to no good, which I found to be very strange. You know when you’re watching a TV show and the plot only exists because two people refuse to listen to each other? That’s what this part of the story feels like. You’d think that after Dawn led the team and a menagerie of forest animals out of the clutches of a gang of crocodiles in the first book, they’d be more likely to hear her out, over the wild claims of a reptile they just met. But this is the course the book takes and yes, it was highly frustrating, both for me and my son. Just listen to Dawn!
But they don’t leading to chapters in which we learn that Polyphema told all of the birds of the forest that they shouldn’t fly. She tells them that this was Dawn’s directive and that if they fly, they risk enraging the beast. I don’t recall Dawn setting the record straight with the birds, which seems like such an easy conversation to have. We also learn that Polyphema actually intended to trap the birds beneath the net. Luckily, Dawn realizes that they’re in danger and they’re able to be freed at the last minute, during yet another episode where the ground begins shaking and breaking open.
It’s around this point that Polyphema doesn’t even bother to pretend like she’s a friend to the other animals. She instigates the banishment of all of the birds, under the guise that it is the only way to save the other animals from the beast’s ire. I didn’t feel like this part of the story was very well fleshed out. Why are the other animals okay to stay but the birds have to go? But no one is a rational state of mind so it’s only mildly surprising when he jerboas begin chanting ‘Banish the birds!’ over and over. My son was furious with Polyphema by this point; it’s obvious she’s up to no good.
At the moment that the birds seem to be fighting back against banishment, an owl named Otto crashes into the crowd. He’s bloody his back is torn up, seemingly by three gashes. Polyphema convinces the others that this is the same fate that awaits them if the birds hang around. In the chaos and confusion of the moment, she slips away, heading back to the fortress. Dawn spots her and encourages the others to follow. Together, they are able track her to the fortress, undetected. They overhear her once again, promising someone or something that she will always protect them. At this point, Bismark is unable to keep his mouth shut and reveals their hiding spot. Polyphema loses her mind, ranting that they have put everyone in danger by coming to this place. When she begins screaming, asking where all of the birds are, it’s revealed that her third eye can’t see anything, as they are right above her.
It’s also discovered that the gashes on Otto’s back match the spikes on the tuatara’s tail, revealing that SHE is his attacker, not some unseen beast! With the truth finally revealed, the story races headlong into its conclusion. Polyphema has been concealing three eggs inside of the fortress, which is actually the opening to an active volcano. With the top of the volcano now blown off, the eggs were exposed to the world. Many of her previous eggs had been eaten by birds, leading to her call to banish them. She is one of the last of her kind; a descendant of the great dinosaurs. This is what the animals have seen in the bottom of the crater, a dinosaur’s fossil.
The animals patch things up and all is well in the forest. I guess everyone plans to just go about their lives in the shadow of an active volcano. It just feels like it was a very long lead up to what was essentially resolved in about 10 pages. It was an interesting adventure but it felt a little too tied up in the end and I don’t think it sends the right message to the reader. Polyphema could have had a compelling backstory, but instead, she just came across as unhinged and dangerous. I didn’t feel any connection with her big reveal; I just thought she was a lying bully by the end.
There’s a third book in the series but I think we’ll probably take a break from The Nocturnals for now. I don’t relish writing a less than positive review but in the case of The Ominous Eye, it just didn’t capture the same magic as The Mysterious Abductions.