VJ Parker borrows familiar cues in her fantasy story, her plot mirroring that of classic tales in which a young hero with extraordinary abilities must take a journey of self-discovery, a trial that reveals a heroic past and points to salvation for an entire people.
Here, that hero is Rowanlee, a young woman with an uncertain pedigree and extraordinary powers. She can heal the sick, command the elements and communicate with animals. She wields a shape-shifting staff that helps harness her supernatural and shamanistic abilities.
Like Moses, she’s abandoned as a baby and discovered by a kindly older woman who becomes her adopted grandmother. The woman recognizes her skills as early as age five. Like Luke Skywalker, Rowanlee must leave the comfort and safety of her home to find her true purpose and identity. In this case, it means leaving her grandmother just before her 18th birthday and traveling to a separate and mystical realm.
The story is set in a vaguely medieval world, but opens as Rowanlee uses her powers to travel to a different place, one featuring a white city called Thornytonaye that Rowanlee has spied in dreams. Here, the elements and animals help Rowanlee discover her purpose and royal lineage, and she uncovers a mission rooted in bringing balance to the land she left as an infant.
Parker shares her take on the coming-of-age trope with an expressive and immediate brand of prose: her present-tense writing helps bring the tale to life and makes even the most familiar parts of her story feel vibrant. Unfortunately, she devotes too much space to scenes with little, if any, meaning. As Rowanlee makes her way through an unfamiliar landscape, for example, far too many scenes are devoted to her foraging for food and making tea. This impedes tension, resulting in an uneven read.
At its best moments, however, Parker’s story will intrigue fantasy fans interested in a fresh take on an age-old tale.
Also available in hardcover.