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Take a dash of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, a sprinkling of China Miťville's Perdido Street Station, and a bit of Neil Gaimanís Coraline, and you will have an idea of what Sean Wright is doing in his highly imaginative novel, The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor. Wright takes a storyline familiar to many readers, that of the youth maturing and questing, and dresses it in the clothes of perhaps the bitchiest heroine this side of Narnia or any swiftly tilting planet.
Part of seven-foot tall Princess Lia-Vaís attitude stems from her addiction to roots (forgive the unintended pun). Root is a substance people regurgitate upon their deaths, allowing them to enter the void of death/the afterlife. In other words, Lia-Va does a good deal of killing as she quest for the root of Brafindor to feed her addiction. Despite Lia-Va's attitude and root-addiction, something about her character is quite compelling and pulled me across the wide swath of a landscape Wright created in this novel.
Another quality setting Princess Lia-Va apart from her heroine peers is how she arrived at the point where we meet her in the opening of the novel. Like many a Princess, she is the next in line for her fatherís throne; however, as is custom with her people, she must kill him in order to assume the throne. Even after his death, she expresses great resentment for the man. As the novel continues, so does Wrightís tearing down of the clichťís of the typical princess character.
What I particularly enjoyed about this world was the utter haziness of it all; that is the line between the fantastic/imagined aspects and similarities to the real world was not clearly defined. There were hints of our world throughout, even with specific references to the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, but all other echoes of the world we know seemed like a far away dream. Lia-Va traversing between the sky cities of Jaarfindor, Finnigull, and Elriad via sky-boats further heightened the fantastic element, but it also gives something familiar in the form of a ship and its captain. I think cloudiness is a theme that cuts across much of the book, from the cities in the sky, to the vagueness of memories, to where Wright puts down the line between a fantastic fully imagined world and a world we recognize as a reflection our own.
Accompanying Lia-Va on her journey is the mysterious Islan a "back-eyes" or bodyguard Lia-Va hires to accompany her as she searches for more of they mystical root. For the better part of Lia-Vaís journey, Islan is silent and merely in the background. The novel takes place in the Jaarfindor Year 4519, immediately suggesting a world with a great deal of recorded history. While the information Wright drops about his world along Lia-Vaís journey are merely hints, he is suggested a very imaginative landscape. Whilst not fully detailed, there is still a nice amount of life breathed into the world.
In addition to the great story between the covers, the covers themselves, in fact the whole book itself, is packaged very nicely. With a cover by Les Edwards, the tower on the blue background of the sky encapsulated the feel of the story for me. Really, what more could you ask for from a book cover.
This book is apparently connected to a larger series of Young Adult fantasies Wright has written. Donít let this minor fact put you off from reading Jaarfindor, any hinted at connections donít make or break the story. I havenít read the books this is loosely connected to, I very much enjoyed the book and felt very attuned to the story. Also, Wright is pushing this as a Young Adult novel; however, his disclaimer before the story starts forewarns readers of the harsh language and violence spewed forth, mostly, from our heroine, Princess Lia-Va. This is a bold, raw uncompromising fantasy novel blending blends elements from all branches of the speculative fiction genre, and left me wanting to discover more of Wrightís imagined world.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford
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