Fantasy Life, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Fantasy Life, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two and a half stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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Fantasy Life begins with a young girl named Emily Buckingham setting out to visit her father. Now, Emily’s parents are recently divorced and she has not seen her daddy in some time even though he does not live very far away, close enough for a girl on a bike to reach in practically no time at all.

And this is what Emily does, she sneaks away from the babysitter, gets her bike and sets off for her old home, where her family used to be happy and where her father, Reginald, still lives. Even though it has been made abundantly clear to her from her mother, Lyssa, that she is not to see Reginald. Why this is the case Emily isn’t entirely sure. Her mom will only say that Reginald has changed, that he is now dangerous.

But Emily could not imagine this man she so loves ever hurting her in any way. So there is no fear at all when she finds her daddy sitting on the dock behind her old home, not until the crazed look comes into his eyes and he throws Emily into the water, tries to hold her under. Emily saves herself by using a magic power that has apparently, until that moment, lain dormant within her. It is a power Emily wishes to never unleash again.

After this incident, Lyssa decides it is time to get away, to move back to Anchor Bay, Oregon, the town of her birth where her mother, Cassie, and grandmother, Athena, still live. If anyone can help Emily control her magical powers it will be these two who are renowned throughout the town for the formidable abilities they themselves wield.

Lyssa, now in her mid-thirties, has been estranged from her family for nearly half her life and it is with no small amount of trepidation that she makes the journey to the home of her youth. The weather is bad when Lyssa and Emily reach Cliffside House, the sprawling manor which has been in the Buckingham family for many generations. Built into the side of a cliff, the house overlooks the ocean where resides much of the Fantasy Life — an assortment of magical creatures that call Anchor Bay home — that the Buckinghams have been sworn to protect.

An oath they nearly failed to uphold back in 1970 when an oil tanker ran aground and spilled its deadly cargo. Now, over thirty years later, it seems that some of the Fantasy Life, most notably the human-like selkies, have not forgotten this tragic incident. And it may be possible that some of them still have revenge on their minds. All too soon Lyssa and Emily discover that they have driven through one storm only to find themselves caught up in the midst of another.

The strength of Fantasy Life is its characters, all of whom are well rendered. The Buckingham women are a strong and intricate lot, each with her own personal motivation for becoming involved in the strange and possibly deadly events that surround them. The prose is strong too, particularly when dealing with the emotionally damaged Cassie and the tragedy that has for so long marred her life.

The plot seems a bit frayed, however, with certain details brushed over, most notably those dealing with a mass exodus of magical creatures that never seems adequately explained. And the suggestion of a burgeoning romance between two major characters never comes to fruition, appears to have been completely forgotten in all the action surrounding the book’s finale. Also, at times the narrative feels a bit too preachy about the ills of an oil dependent society.

Overall, Fantasy Life is a smooth and enjoyable read filled with interesting characters but a few weaknesses in the plot keep it from becoming anything more than a mid-grade fantasy novel.

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