on 8 January 2014
Christine Jackson has created a charming, lovely story with a rich diversity of characters and some tender moments. When apprenticed to a grumpy shaman, Maya meets her familiar, the impish hummingbird Sprite, who reminds me very much of ET, Short Circuit or WALL-E in the way Ms Jackson characterises him. I always heard his constant squeals of "Innnnnnnteresting!" in the voice of a cute movie alien or funny robot. This is perhaps the first time in a while where I've felt that an author really brings a character to life.
What I loved about this book in particular is that it is suffused with a genuinely North American atmosphere. Much traditional fantasy written by western authors is set in very Euro-centric worlds; however, Ms Jackson has created a setting where she has taken the folklore of her own immediate surroundings and built on it. This is to be commended and encouraged. The charming cover art may have an influence on this opinion, but there's elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender to the world and the setting. She does for children's fantasy literature what Raymond Feist did for adults with the world of Kelewan - create something unique and distinct from Tolkien's well-trodden paths.
The final climax is well-written, dramatic, and leaves the path clear for more adventures with Maya and her friends. It's clear that there's no easy answer or easy fix to the problem thrown up by the antagonist Shadow. There was also a very profound statement about religious belief, which for me precisely encapsulated my thoughts on religion. (Basically the spirits/Divine can only do so much to actively protect humanity; the Divine can't intervene all the time. It's up to us to learn for ourselves how to live with respect and care for other people.)
The only thing I ask for more of in any sequel is to learn about the bandits. I think Ms Jackson could have given us slightly more background to why they ended up as outcasts, and almost, what is so bad about them. However, given the story is from Maya's childish point-of-view ('the bandits are bad because people say they're bad'), it gives her latitude to think about this for the next book rather than fixing anything about the setting far too soon.
Ms Jackson shows real courage and grace in writing something which isn't violent or bleak, but has enough peril and shadows to create a realistic conflict. This is a hard balance to find, and I await the next book in the series eagerly.