*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
This book was strange, but I liked its strangeness, and these flawed characters managed to capture my heart as they traveled through magical realms, formed bonds with one another, and struggled with their own inner turmoil and growth while on their quest to find the water of health.
This was a plot-driven book, and while that’s normally not my thing, I enjoyed getting to see all the weird stuff in the Kingdoms (the other realms) and going along for the ride. There was some randomness, things that happened because of fate or that didn’t get explained, but I was able to roll with it. It fit with the strangeness of the book overall, and magic and fate and those sorts of things were just a part of the setting where the story took place.
But, despite the book’s plot-driven nature, it was the characters that really reeled me in, especially Errol and Aster, who seemed to be the two main ones.
I felt for Errol immediately. Reading about his attempted suicide, the fear he felt when it didn’t go as planned, the grief he felt when he found out his body was lying in a hospital—I nearly shed a tear despite not even knowing his reason for trying to commit suicide. As I learned more about him, I could see he wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t a bad guy either. He was dealing with some tough stuff, he cared about people, he just wanted to feel like he wasn’t so useless to everyone, and he realized some of his faults over the course of the book.
Aster was markedly less likeable to start off with—callous and selfish—but I could understand why she was that way, and I sympathized with her too. She was basically on her own with no one to turn to, and she just wanted to save her father from the curse he was under and not feel like such an outsider. As the book went on, well, she turned out to not be so selfish after all, and I felt for her.
One of my only complaints is that there were a few too many POVs for my taste, and the book sometimes jumped between them in short bursts. But the POVs were always clearly separated, the short bursts kept the book feeling like it was moving quickly, and clearly I found the main characters believable, likeable, and interesting regardless. The characters even cracked me up sometimes.
Altogether, the characters had an interesting dynamic. Friendships. Mutual crushes. Unrequited crushes. Animosity. All these things developing, getting tangled up, and changing throughout the book. It was kind of like teenage drama, high fantasy style. Some of the feelings were a bit sudden or not as believable as they could’ve been, but I suppose it might be realistic for some teens to feel things strongly and quickly, and it was all subdued rather than over-the-top and added another layer to the story, so I liked it. And the friendships that formed were really touching and sweet.
Overall, this was an enjoyable story with a swift plot, an interesting magical world, touching friendships, and believable characters that I look forward to reading more about in the next book!
Anyone who likes quests through fantasy realms, sweet friendships, character growth, a lot of magic, and just a bit of strangeness.
A young man looking for death finds purpose in a world beyond our own in this sweeping fantasy from Greg Keyes (The Briar King, Newton’s Cannon).
Errol Greyson hadn’t intended to commit suicide. Or so he told himself. But waking up after his “cry for help” in the body of a wood-and-metal construct magically animated by Aster―the strange girl from school―was not a result he could have imagined.
Aster’s wild explanations of a quest to find the water of health that would cure her father seemed as unreal as her description of Errol’s own half-dead existence, his consciousness stuck in an enchanted automaton while his real body was in a coma from which it might never wake. And of course, they would need to recruit a girl―a virgin, no less―who had been dead for thirty years, to lead them through something called the Pale, beyond which a bunch of magical kingdoms existed. Plus, the threat that Aster could turn him off like a light switch, sending him into a hellish oblivion, was a convincing incentive to cooperate.
It all seemed quite mad: Either Aster was nuts, or Errol was hallucinating. But if it meant a new chance at life, he reckoned it was worth playing along.