Sunday, June 28, 2009

Not your everyday magic

Once again, I now find myself anticipating the next installment of a young adult fantasy series -- Kathleen Duey's A Resurrection of Magic. I now have a theory why chapter books are very popular among young adults. Children and young adults are the only ones who can stand the agonizing wait. Most chapter books don't interest others at all. (Of course, there are exceptions. The fantasy novels of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin have managed to have a devoted following.)

The first book of the series, Skin Hunger, might turn off readers who are used to plot lines heavy on the action and the suspense. And if you're looking for lovable characters who seem to get themselves out of impossible situations, then you might as well just re-read your favorite feel good novel. Skin Hunger is a dark and is oftentimes an uncomfortable one. Reading the first few chapters of the book might lead you to ask, "Where is all this headed?" as there seems to be no clear conflict that needs to be resolved.

But you know that patience, indeed, is a virtue. Further on into the novel, you realize that Duey is taking you to uncharted territory. In Skin Hunger, magicians have an evil streak in them; they've no qualms about letting their young pupils die of starvation. And, unlike other young adult novels, there are two very distinct plot lines in the book, and these seldom intersect with one another.

First you have the story of Sadima, a young woman who can converse with animals, a trait frowned upon in a time when magic has been prohibited. Sadima's birth is even an unfortunate one: a quack magician leaves her mother to die and steals from her family. When Sadima grows to womanhood, she sets off for the city and resides with two men, Franklin and Somiss. These two have taken it upon themselves to restore the glorious era of magic and wizardry. Eventually, Sadima falls in love with Franklin, learns to read and write esoteric songs linked with magic, and discovers the painful truth about the abusive relationship between the two men.

The second story line, which occurs centuries later, focuses on the first-person narrative of young Hahp, the second son of prominent businessman. In this day and age, rich families send their second-born sons to a "wizarding school." There's no Hogwarts-like atmosphere in this institution. It's inside a cavern with hundreds of dark, twisting tunnels and where wizards are anything but cheery. Admission also comes with a warning -- only one of them can become a wizard. All the boys are left to starve unless they find a way to conjure food magically; those who are able to do so are told not to help out the others. Two of their wizard teachers are Franklin and Somiss.

There are no solid magical elements that pervade these two story lines. In fact, you might wonder if people were better off not practicing magic altogether. But Skin Hunger is a very promising first book. The narrative is atmospheric. The way the chapters are organized may seem tiresome to some readers, since the stories of Sadima and Hahp occur as alternating chapters, with very little thread holding them together. Still, Duey has perfectly piqued the reader's interest on what could very well be a very satisfying read for young adults who are into dark fantasy.

Read this book if:
  1. You like darkly brooding characters.
  2. You've had enough of the garden-variety wizards.
  3. You just like them chapter books.