‘Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse’ by Curtis Jobling: Middle grade fantasy

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Rating: 4 1/2 stars

There’s nothing better than starting a book that is the first in a new series that you know you’re going to enjoy. “Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse” by Curtis Jobling is one of those books. Many young readers were hooked on his extremely popular “Wereworld” series. This series is just as filled with adventure and even more accessible to a wider range of readers.

In “Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse,” the only thing missing is the “Van” from “Van Helsing” (the legendary vampire killer). For obvious reasons, the “Van” was omitted from the family’s name during the Second World War (too German sounding). So now, Max Helsing, the protagonist in the series, is the last of the line. He is being raised by the same man who raised his father and his grandfather.

The story opens as Max is about to turn thirteen. The reader learns that Max has been a monster hunter for years, and that he has a soft heart. Many of the monsters he “hunts” are not evil. He is able to help them, and many of them live in their house-turned-apartment-building. There is the family of pixies living outside the front door and the Iron Golem who has his own apartment.

On Max’s thirteenth birthday, something very unexpected happens. Even the most benign monsters — like his new hellhound puppy named Eightball — turn on Max and try to kill him. His best friend is a girl named Syd, who likes to build things and is a whiz with all things mechanical. One of the neighbors is a ten-year-old kid named Wing Liu. He’s obsessed by all things monster, and even though Max assures him they don’t exist, Wing Liu doesn’t necessarily believe him. There is also the rival British monster killer, Abel Archer, whose priorities are a bit different than Max’s. His philosophy is that the only good monster is a dead monster.

Max finds out that the reason even friendly monsters try to kill him is that he has been “marked.” By whom and for what reason are part of the mystery that Max must uncover during his adventure. While trying to stay alive, he must figure out what is behind his “marked” status and how to stop it. He has loyal friends, and his kindness does not go unrewarded. When Archer tell him, at the end of the story, that befriending monsters is “going to get you killed,” Max responds, “If my monster friends hadn’t helped me as much as my human ones did, I’d probably be ghoul chow.”

A monster series with a heart. Actually, many hearts become important in this story, including the heart of a very wicked vampire. And although the book has an ending of sorts, the beginning for the next part of Max’s adventures is effectively included. His colorful and clever friends (human and monster) are sure to be involved. Stay tuned.

The book also include fabulous drawings of the monsters by Jobling (who is also an illustrator).

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Viking Books, the publisher, for review purposes.