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The Last Hope.... or the Newest Cash In?
on 27 August 2014
All right, so a 33 year-old man is probably not who Plichota and Wolf imagined would be reading Oksa's adventures, but hear me out: some of the best and most innovative storytelling in the last fifteen years or so has come from children and YA fiction. We've had the boy wizard, the survival game tribute, the little girl with her daemon, the witch-hunter's apprentice... the list goes on. I'm only saying this to show I have retained some of that wonder we have when we read as children, that willingness to believe what the author is saying no matter how fantastic. In fact, I love it.
So, it was with some disappointment that I finished Oksa Pollock: the Last Hope about a hundred pages before the end.
Oksa is a 13 year-old Russo-French girl who moves to London where her parents are going to set up a French restaurant. In tow are her grandmother, an eccentric Russian matriarch, her best friend Gus and his own parents (a strange addition to the situation, but anyway...).
She starts at a new school for French children in London, with all the pitfalls: bullies, nasty teachers, girls who take Gus's attention away from her. It all makes for the perfect mix of change and upheaval for a pre-pubescent to manifest her supernatural powers. It all begins to make sense when she learns her family members are political refugees from the magical, hidden country of Edefia where everyone has such powers. Not only that, she is the heir to Edefia's throne. And thus begins her training and induction into the magical secrets of her people.
The story here is not a bad one, and I liked that the writers would touch upon the real-world plights of many people in the Second World War, those who had to flee oppressive regimes to stay alive. However, sometimes it feels like there are too many ideas being thrown into the pot for it to be truly satisfying. Why does Oksa's family have to live in London? It has no real bearing on the plot. Why did her best friend and his parents come with them? How on Earth did she not notice her grandmother's menagerie of magical creatures all roaming about her house for her whole life?
Then we have the Insta-Latin, the terms for all the magical paraphernalia that litters every page, coupled with reams and reams of exposition every other chapter. We have to endure quite a lot before anything actually happens. I would have rather read the back story of all the other characters, to be honest, rather than be told them in countless, "I need to tell you about..."-style info-dumps. Also, stories are all about conflict, but we don't get a sense of any real and present threat to our characters, and thus we have no drama.
The character of Oksa herself is quite hard to put up with at times. Her characterisation doesn't always hang together, with traits being set up in one chapter only to be contradicted in another. For example, Gus says she doesn't like drawing attention to herself, but then she's very vocal in her criticism of her teacher's methods of discipline. In addition, everything comes too easy to Oksa; who roots for the girl who gets it all and has no trouble getting it?
I guess there is a market out there for people who want more adventures of a young person with magical powers now that the Potterverse is mostly closed for business, and that is certainly why the publishers gave us this book. I tried really hard to set the boy wizard to one side as I read this, but he's ever-present. Sadly Oksa Pollock did not grasp my imagination as I hoped she would and so, for this reader, the story ends here.