Children of the Shaman, by Jessica Rydill

Children of the Shaman, by Jessica Rydill book review book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher:  Kristell Ink, Grimbold Books
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Reviewer: SJ Higbee

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This cool cover caught my eye a while ago, and as Rydill is also a Grimbold author, I added it to my Kindle. And there it stayed for far too long until I needed some fantasy in my life.

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel.

That’s as much as I’m prepared to share of the rather chatty blurb, which gives the impression that it is a children’s book, due to the young protagonist. However, to be honest, that isn’t how it read. It doesn’t even have a YA vibe. Young Annat is extremely precocious–and like many youngsters growing up in difficult places at difficult times–very observant of the adults around her. Thus we get a sharp-edged look at tangled, often painful adult relationships through the eyes of someone not yet fully able to understand the power and misery of doomed love.

I really enjoyed this perspective. Annat’s unfolding relationship with her formally estranged father is extremely well handled and certainly rings true to someone who also had an absent father when growing up. I am also impressed at the way Rydill approaches the shifting dynamic between Annat and her older brother. Previously, when they were both living with her aunt, her brother is the special one as he is singled out for his academic cleverness. However, once they are tipped into the middle of this adventure with their charismatic, unstable and magically gifted father, who drags them along on a journey filled with physical hardship and constant danger, it is Annat’s growing powers and stoical toughness that gets the paternal approval, while he merely sighs over her brother’s timidity and clumsiness.

I’m aware I may have given the impression that this is all about relationships within a family dynamic–perhaps clustered around the kitchen table. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. This book is full of adventure, ranging from action surrounding a steam train to a castle stronghold controlled by a fanatical lord, intent on executing anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. Once I opened it up, it was always difficult to put this one down again. And since I have finished reading it, I have found myself thinking about those cleverly nuanced characters and wondering how I would have coped in those circumstances.

The good news is that this is the first in a series and I won’t be leaving it too long before once more getting back in touch with Annat and her family. Highly recommended for fans of quality fantasy.

SJ Higbee

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