Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: 'Arrow of the Mist' by Christina Mercer

I repeatedly spout about how fantasy is my favourite genre and yet I find it really hard to find fantasy books I genuinely enjoy. Whether that is because I am hesitant to pick up books in the fear of being disappointed or simply have bad luck picking books, it has resulted in me missing out. Then this book came to change that.
Terror strikes the Celtic inspired kingdom of Nemetona when barbed roots breach the veil of a forbidden land and poison woodsmen, including 15-year-old Lia’s beloved father. Lia and three others embark on a quest to the forbidden land of Brume to gather ingredients for the cure. But after her elder kinsman is attacked and poisoned, she and her cousin, Wynn, are forced to finish the quest on their own.
Lia relies on her powerful herbal wisdom and the memorized pages of her late grandmother’s Grimoire for guidance through a land of soul-hungry shades, trickster creatures, and uncovered truths about the origin of Brume and her family’s unexpected ties to it. The deeper they trek into the land, the stronger Lia’s untapped gift as a tree mage unfolds. When she discovers the enchanted root’s maker, it forces her to question everything about who she is and what is her destiny. Ultimately she must make a terrible choice: keep fighting to save her father and the people of the lands or join with the power behind the deadly roots to help nature start anew.
Middle-Grade is a sub-genre which is often very hit-or-miss for me. Authors sometimes don't manage to find a balance between both guiding their younger readers through their narrative while not treating them as fools. Mercer manages to combine both light and dark elements in her story that doesn't lie about the bad things that happen or pretend everything in the world is dark. Before I go into the characters more, I want to take some time to comment on how glad I was about the respect for nature within this book. It may seem a strange thing to praise, but it is one of the things I adore about Fantasy. A lot of recent books, especially YA, are set in towns, in metropolitan cities, inside houses, where nature is reduced to a park here or there. Mercer's book is infused with nature, with trees, herbs and animals, all of which form a crucial element of the world in which Lia lives. The respect with which she treats her surroundings and her wonder for nature are traits that while reading are transmitted to the reader and they are some of the best things you can take away from a book.

I myself am very interested in Celtic mythology and I loved seeing the strong influences the culture had on Mercer's novel. Naturally she adapted it to her target group, but it is clear that she has done the necessary research to not present druids as nutcases, as unfortunately often happens by accident, but simply as people in touch with nature. And this is also where I want to recommend Mercer for choosing a female protagonist. Fantasy novels have always had the benefit of strong female characters and it is great to see that tradition continued into the Middle-Grade part of the genre. Lia is a great example of a good female character that everyone should be able to empathize with. She is passionate about what she does, she is kind but not so self-sacrificing that she becomes a doormat, and she even has the time to cast her eye at a good-looking fellow, who in his own right has skills that would guarantee him a position in the novel. It is nice to see a story in which neither of the "romantic" characters are just there for the romance. Lia carries the novel without problem and never once do you question why the other characters follow her lead.

Mercer's writing is beautiful and moves very easily from comedy to tension to drama. She has also chosen to reflect her choice of Celtic inspiration in the way the characters talk. In the beginning I feared she was leaning on Disney's Brave a bit too much, but those worries disappeared relatively quickly. Although there are similarities between the film's main character and Lia, the comparisons end there and Mercer clearly crafts her own story which is filled with interesting twists and beautiful imagery. There are moments in the book which are absolutely gorgeous, which give Mercer the chance to really showcase her ability to play with words. It was enjoyable to me, who is clearly outside of the Middle-Grade target group, while never seeming to be out of range for younger readers.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed reading Arrow of the Mist although I had worries originally because it was Middle-Grade. It's a great book that I would definitely recommend to anyone with children. It's a great introduction for younger readers into the possibilities of Fantasy. This book would be perfect for anyone looking for a fun Fantasy read with lots of possibilities. And with a sequel already out, it's clear that there is a continuing, interesting story here.

2 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you on the uncertainty of reading middle-grade fantasy. For example, I bought Peter Pan and the Starcatchers in high school and HATED it. But there were also several series that I really loved - The Land of Elyon series (have you read it?) This one definitely sounds like a great read! Thanks for sharing :)

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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  2. I remember seeing this one a while back, I thought the cover was quite distinctive and th blurb intriguing. Nice to see a review of it. Sounds like a great book, and I like the emphasis on herbalism and nature, and the implication that the heroine is connected to the events happening. May pick this one up.

    Like you, I love fantasy but lately have a hard time picking out fantasy I like. I've wondered about that too! :)

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