This week Evie Woolmore posts her first round of reviews of indie-published books.
In a overcrowded YA fantasy genre, Lethal Inheritance is a well constructed story with plenty of ups and downs, a clever dash of humour, and a clearly defined atmosphere. Our heroine Ariel is plunged straight into her worst nightmare when her mother is abducted by demons that literally chill her soul. And what Tahlia Newland does very effectively is to show us powerfully how any teenager must feel when faced with the choice of leaving behind a familiar world and embracing something new and challenging, not to mention dangerous.
Ariel is given plenty of opportunity to test her instincts with friends and foes – her guide is particularly well drawn, as is the attractive young man who becomes her companion while wrestling with dark demons of his own – and Ms Newland has used an interesting inversion of magical realism, infusing the magical world of Diamond Peak with elements of the real world, rather than relying simply on the more traditional approach of infusing our world with magic. The chapters in The Lures are particularly effective in that sense. She has also created a complex world at Diamond Peak with layers of good and evil that are not simply that, and the ‘mythology’ of that world is convincingly explained throughout as ever more threatening perils emerge for Ariel to face. The underlying theme of the power of love and goodness over the dark forces of anger and greed feels a little bit more adult than YA at times, for Ms Newland writes of it with an authority that comes more from experience and wisdom of an adult point of view, and less from a sympathetic YA fictional narrator.
And therein lies the missing star in this rating: for me, the narrative style has some repeated phrases and words and some explanatory content which, for me, could have been better explored through dialogue rather than description of what Ariel is thinking. That becomes less of an issue as the book goes on – the second half is much more fluent to read, a factor affected in my opinion by the dramatic increase in action and less wondering by Ariel about this strange new world she has entered.
Nonetheless, this is a really strong story with plenty to engage a YA reader – and adult ones too – and some nice Australian touches of setting. And it will be really interesting to follow Ariel on the second stage of her quest, for her challenges have surely only just begun.
The first volume in Catherine M Wilson’s trilogy not only takes us back in time to a Bronze Age community, but also back to a time when story-telling was a foundation of identity, of learning, of sharing, of preserving the past and of religious belief. And Ms Wilson is definitely a story-teller herself, infusing the whole book with that same instructive, atmospheric and narratively compelling style that define the age-old stories her character tells.
The novel is told in the voice and through the eyes of Tamras, a girl who leaves home to join a deeply hierarchical community of women warriors and their companions, and it chronicles her relationships with, among others, three principal female characters: her friend Sparrow; the warrior she becomes companion to, Maara; and the head of the community, Lady Merin. Eager to please and eager to learn, yet driven by her independent spirit, she must learn not only her way around the complexities of the community she has joined, but also how to trust her instincts in wishing to befriend the solitary Maara, whose loyalty is doubted by the others.
One of the great strengths of this book is its fluency, both in the way it is written and its readability. Tamras, like all the women in this book, is on a journey, and there is a feeling of great continuity about the story, as though one is following just one thread in a great tapestry of life. Certainly, when the first book ends you will want to read on to the next volume. What makes the story unusual, at least to some readers, is the almost complete absence of male characters: not until about three-quarters of the way through is a male character drawn with sufficient detail to make him leap off the page. For some readers that will be an enormous asset, for others it will make the book seem a little flat. The women warrior characters have many of the personality traits that male characters might bring, but for this reader there could have been a little more variation in character tone. Ms Wilson has captured the powerful and productive intensity that strong female relationships create, and their intellectual and emotional journeys will be very familiar and inspiring to many readers. But at times the book, for this reader, felt so constantly intense that some variation – more humour, a greater variety of personalities – would have been welcome.
And there, for me, is the missing 5th star. I felt while reading this that I was always waiting for something to happen. And that it never quite did. The characters seem constantly to be waiting for something, and while their internal journeys give the book that readability and fluency I noted earlier, and while there is a neat and satisfactory ending to one particular character journey at the end of this volume, the book had the same even pacing of its age-old stories, and felt almost too “story-told” to me. I longed to see the warriors fighting, to feel more of a rush in the pacing at times, and not just to hear about it second-hand.
Nonetheless, this is a highly readable book which captures its period and atmosphere extremely well, and will lure readers on to read the whole trilogy.
At 7,500 words, The Sixth Wife is a long short story or a short novelette. It tells the story of Adelia, a human woman, and her elven husband Ametar, from both points of view, and has a strongly allegorical feel to it, as opposed to a fantasy one, considering the nature of ageing, death and love. A well-written story with a nice flow to it, the characters convey depth despite being simply drawn and Ms Lond includes enough description to set the scenes but not so much that the pace of the novelette slows.
But perhaps therein lies the missing 5th star for me, in that while the author has mastered the shortness of the form very effectively, I felt it didn’t quite fulfill its potential because it could have been longer. The easy charm of the two central characters and their different backgrounds left this reader wanting just that little bit more, and certainly there was capacity to do more with every aspect of the story, to show us more background, to share with us more insight into their personalities and experiences, to show rather than tell us better why there is such tension in the decision that has been made about their marriage. For two characters who loved each other so much, they seemed to keep a lot of information from each other! And I confess the ending almost disappointed me in its neatness, not least because there was scope to tell us so much more about why the solution had been kept from Ametar to begin with. But again, perhaps that was a concession to the shorter form, and it does not particularly harm the story.
Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable read and would make a great addition to a set of allegorical stories were Ms Lond to consider writing more in the same vein.
If you would like to contact Evie Woolmore about reviewing your indie-published book, please read the information on this page.