Monday, July 14, 2008

Book Review: The Sky Village

The Sky Village
Kaimira: Book One
by Monk Ashland and Nigel Ashland

In a futuristic world dominated by wars between men, beasts, and meks, two children find themselves in possession of a strange book. In China, a girl named Mei is sent by her father to the Sky Village, a huge floating city of interconnected balloons, for safety after her village is attacked and her mother taken by meks. Among her possessions is her mother’s book, the Tree Book, which her father gave her for safekeeping but instructed her strictly not to open it.

In Las Vegas, a boy named Rom sets off to rescue his sister after she is taken by beast-mek hybrids called demons. Rom is captured and taken to the caves under Las Vegas, where he’s forced to learn to control a demon and fight in gladiator style battles with other demonsmiths in order to rescue his sister. Rom also has a Tree Book, which belonged to his father.

When Mei inadvertently alienates the birds who have always been allies of the Sky Village, she must learn to perform the highly risky sky dance to restore the city’s friendship with the birds. Meanwhile, Rom tries to learn to control the demons and win the tournament without losing his mind to the technology. When Mei and Rom open the Tree Book to look for answers, they discover that they can communicate with each other, and also with an entity named Animus who seems to reside in the book. They also learn that each has an unusual gene called the kaimira gene, which combines elements of beast, mek and human within them. Mei and Rom find comfort in communicating through the book, as each tries to learn to use their unique abilities to save the people they care about before it’s too late.

The Sky Village is a unique fantasy with rich world building. Monk and Nigel Ashland have created two fascinating cultures, each of which shows elements of their root cultures. The Sky Village is a lovely concept, a city made of balloons tied together and floating above China. The culture of the Sky Village is an interesting mixture of traditional Chinese elements with unique elements unique to an airborne society. I particularly loved the nuptial rituals. The caves under Las Vegas, by contrast, have a culture steeped in greed and gambling that seems appropriate to their location.

The characters are also interesting, varied and colorful. The two protagonists are likable, sympathetic, and quite human: they make mistakes and they fail, sometimes with disastrous consequences, but they are both courageous and caring, and try to make up for their mistakes. The plot is exciting and holds your interest, although I did find Rom's story a little more exciting than Mei's.

One thing that frustrated me is that the story reads like science fiction, and yet the science wasn’t explained and sometimes seems impossible. For example, the demons, which are supposed to be some kind of beast-mek hybrid, materialize out of thin air, apparently constructed from the mind of a demonsmith. I find it hard to understand how something like that could really exist - perhaps some type of nanotechnology? But for now, I’ll comfort myself with Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and hope that the science will be better explained in future books.

Kaimira is an exciting and enjoyable series, and I look forward to reading future installments.

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