Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book Review: The Keeper's Shadow

The Keeper's Shadow
The Longlight Legacy, book 3
by Dennis Foon

In this exciting and powerful conclusion to The Longlight Legacy, time is running out as Darius, Master of the City, begins to accelerate his plans towards an unknown purpose. People are dying, victims of a new technology that seems to rip out their very life force. And Darius appears to be building a new Dreamfield construction that just may make his power unstoppable.

Roan has found the mountaintop sanctuary of the Apsara, a secret group of warrior women descended from one of the four original rebel armies. There, he attempts to forge an alliance between the Apsara, the Brother - the religious sect responsible for the destruction of Roan's village - and other diverse groups both inside and outside the city, to fight the growing power of Darius. But Roan knows that half the battle will be fought in the Dreamfield, so Roan and Lumpy set off on a quest to find the abandoned Foresight Academy, a school founded by the Dirt Eaters, in hopes of finding a map of the Dreamfield in the library there.

Meanwhile, Stowe has escaped the City, but is alone and in bad shape, possessed by a Dirt Eater bent on using or destroying her. Willum and Mabatan find her, but exorcising the Dirt Eater possessing her could kill her or damage her psyche. While Willum tries to save Stowe, Mabatan works to help Alandra, Roan's Dirt Eater friend, as she suffers Dirt withdrawal.

As the various groups converge on the camp of the Brother for a conference of war, Roan tries to find a way to bring the disparate, and sometimes contentious, groups together. Because only by uniting their diverse abilities do they have a prayer of defeating Darius.

The Keeper's Shadow is not only a worthy conclusion, it's probably the best book of the series. Foon masterfully brings together all the elements that he set in motion in the previous books. Roan really comes of age in this book as he struggles to learn how to be a leader, a role he is reluctantly thrust into. All the other characters are wonderful - deep and complex and often more than what they appear to be. Lumpy really comes into his own, showing a keen intelligence and insight coupled with an empathy that gives him a unique ability to bring people together.

While religious and mystical themes play a role in all the books, they really come to the fore in The Keeper's Shadow. The book probes deeply into questions of faith and belief, as Roan struggles to figure out how to lead a religion he doesn't personally believe in, and other characters are shown to have a surprising faith even in the face of personal knowledge. (I can't say more than that without giving away some plot points). Questions are raised, such as, if a religion or a prophecy is "made up," does that mean that it can't also be true? And, of course, the Dreamfield itself, that mystical "other world" of the psyche, plays a key role, as Roan encounters the living, the dead, and even a god there.

Read my reviews of book 1, The Dirt Eaters, and book 2, Freewalker. You can also read my interview with author Dennis Foon here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: Ratha's Creature

Ratha's Creature
The First Book of the Named
by Clare Bell

What if there were prehistoric cats who took the first steps towards civilization? That's the premise behind Ratha's Creature and The Named series. The Named are a tribe of large prehistoric cats who have learned to keep herds of prehistoric herdbeasts. Ratha is a yearling in training to be a herder. Females are discouraged from becoming herders under the dictatorial rule of clan leader Meoran, but Ratha's teacher Thakur believed she had promise and convinced Meoran to allow him to train her. In addition to keeping the herdbeasts from wandering, the herders have to protect them from the Un-Named, cats who have no clan and no name and who live by preying on the herds of the Named.

When a forest fire temporarily drives the Named from their home, Ratha discovers that fire is not just an enemy: it's a tool that can be used and controlled. Her discovery frightens the clan and threatens Meoran's leadership, and Ratha is driven out of the clan. Exiled and alone, Ratha lives on the edge of survival until she meets one of the Un-Named, and discovers that not all of the Un-Named are as dimwitted as she has been led to believe.

Ratha's Creature is an intense, emotional roller coaster of a book. It's the coming of age story of a remarkable adolescent, but it's also a story of the eternal battle between social status quo and social change. Ratha is the perfect change agent: she's impulsive, rebellious, and stubborn, but also creative, courageous, and determined. She's a remarkable character that you can't help but like in spite of her shortcomings, and teens will identify with her struggle to make sense of the world around her and find her place in it.

It's the characters - and the interaction between them - that really make this book. Besides Ratha there's Bonechewer, appealing arrogant and sardonic, yet amazingly patient with Ratha's occasionally irascible nature. Then there's Fessran, courageous and loyal, who stands by Ratha even when Ratha loses faith in herself. And finally Thakur, who loves Ratha in his own way, yet fears the change that she represents.

Ratha's Creature is a fast read - I think I read it in less than 24 hours, which is fast for me, because I couldn't put it down. Yet there's a lot to chew on here, too, with an emotional depth and a complexity of social and psychological situations. And here's a remarkable thing: the book has 42 reviews on Amazon.com, and EVERY ONE of them is a five star review. How often do you see that happen?

This book is more appropriate for mature teens than for younger readers; there's a fair bit of graphic violence, and a mating scene which is quite intense, although not overly explicit in language.

Ratha's Creature was first published in 1983 and has long been out of print. It was just republished in 2007 by the Firebird Books imprint of Penguin. They also republished books 2, 3, and 4 of the series. The new edition of Ratha's Creature is available from Amazon.com here.

A brand new book in the series, Ratha's Courage, was originally scheduled for publication in 2007 by Firebird, but publication of this eagerly awaited sequel was inexplicably cancelled. Ratha's Courage is available as an e-book from Baen Books here and should be in print soon.

There's an interesting collection of Ratha's Creature fan art here.