I’ve been a friend of Justin Macumber’s for some time. He’s had me on the Dead Robots Society podcast a time or three and we’ve collaborated on a few projects together. All of that said in the spirit of full disclosure. As soon as I saw this new book and read the excerpt, I plunked down my money to get a copy.
Over the course of a single night, mystical fires tore through the sky and reduced most of Earth to ash. Ten years later magical fire burns again, but this time it’s in the hands of a young girl named Skylar. Exiled from her adoptive home, Skylar must now struggle through ruined lands and religious zealots who believe she’s an agent of the Devil. An even greater threat exists in the form of shadowy sorcerers from another world who covet her blood. Along her journey, she meets a motley band of outcasts who not only know the secret of what happened to Earth, but also of Skylar’s true origin. Will Skylar be able to accept this fantastical truth? But more importantly, can her powers and raging heart be tamed in time to stop those who once burned the world and now seek total domination?
I love a good post apocalyptic story, particularly when you bring the fantasy element into it. One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Thundarr the Barbarian. This is a little like that with fewer sunswords and Moks and more female sorcerers.
What we have here is a solid YA fantasy novel. There’s a bit of “coming of age” and a little “fish out of water”. There’s also an endearing bit of romance. With all of that, as someone who’s in no way the target audience for this book, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
What did I like? First and foremost there’s Skylar. The world has taken a big old dump on her and it continues to do so throughout the story. How does she react? She gets crabby, downright angry, scared, and sad. That’s how real people would react and it’s nice to see. She falls in love and at first I thought it was a little too quick and easy, but the love interest is a life boat to her. They’ve had some common experiences and they’re young, the only young people on this road they travel, so it makes sense. Perhaps the only thing about it that didn’t ring entirely true was there was little conflict in their relationship. Considering how little time they had to explore the relationship though in the midst of all of the other conflict going on, perhaps that makes sense.
That’s one of the other things I like about this novel, it moves quickly. There’s a fair amount of action and about the time the characters have time to breathe, something else happens. There’s no shortage of tension.
Finally, this is a post apocalyptic novel, so it is pretty dark. It’s nicely balanced though. We’re not talking The Road level of darkness. There are enclaves of people dealing with things badly. There are monsters lurking in pockets of wyld magic. There’s a feeling of disconnect from the world as it used to be from the younger characters and some reminiscing for the way things used to be from the adults. Justin paints a good picture of the destruction that has been wreaked. In spite of all of that, he keeps a small spark of hope burning. These people are on the way to save the world, as best they can, and you get the sense that they just might be able to pull it off.
Any down sides to this book? Not very many. If you’re looking for some kind of fully fledged magic system (and I know there are fantasy fans that want that) it’s not here. Magic is new to the world and its hard to do. In that sense, this would probably be considered “low fantasy”. The ending felt a little bit rushed to me. The characters meet the “big bad” and it gets resolved in a satisfying way, but I would have liked it to be a little harder/more complicated. In a way it reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. The story is more about the journey than about the destination. Again, not a big deal, but another chapter or two about what takes place in the other world and perhaps an epic battle scene and I would have been happier.
The most telling things is what I did when I closed the book after the final page. I handed it to my thirteen year old daughter to read. She’s a voracious reader and I know she’ll enjoy it. Finding a book that can please a crusty old man and a teenage girl is sort of the Holy Grail of YA. There are a few crusty old man words, but nothing you wouldn’t hear in a PG movie. You can’t expect a post-apocalypse, fantasy world to be all Disney-fied, and I wouldn’t want it to be.
I give this book four and a half Demon Dogs out of five!