Victoria Simcox asked me to read her book, The Warble. It is the first in her Bernovem Chronicles series. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
This is a Trapped In Another World Macguffin mission, for preteens. Kristina is transported from her world to Bergoen by a magic trinket and now she has to take it somewhere in order to go back home.
The beginning is Ease Into Adventure with a typical day for our protagonist. The school period itself is skipped over, which is nice, because it would have been filler. The only parts that are focused on are the relevant parts; the two bullies that will follow Kristina and the mysterious teacher who gives Kristina the Warble. I assume that Miss. Simcox' goal was to create a Woobie out of her protagonist, and in this case she is successful. Kristina could certainly use a hug by the end of the day.
The plot is split among several perspectives. This diminishes Kristina's screentime and increases that of other characters. She may seem less important for this reason, being that she is supposed to be this "chosen one" savior figure but it makes sense. She's a child without the special abilities that a protagonist in this sort of story would typical have. She is not useless by any means, just bewildered and out of her depth. She may be the "chosen one" but she doesn't have to do everything herself. This end result is less of a "superpower wish fulfillment" thing and more of a "The Power of Friendship moral", which I say is more valuable for a book aimed at this age group.
I like the idea of Fairy Blossoms.
1. These are magical flowers that are a stable of the inhabitant's life style. Not only does it provide them with energy and heal injuries but it can even halt aging. Strategic use of Fairy Blossoms becomes a key aspect of Kristina's quest. She can use it to support her party, to recruit others to her party, or for bartering. Kids who play RPGs will recognize this as a recovery item and relate to that.
2. Furthermore, it's just one item and yet it accomplishes a great deal in terms of world building. Pre-series, Queen Sentiz dug up a lot of the Fairy Blossoms and replaced them with thorns and the consequences of this are everywhere. It explains why the denizens require someone to save them; they lack the energy and strength otherwise. It explains why the queen did so in the first place; by controlling the source of Fairy Blossoms, she has significant leverage over her unwilling subjects. By planting thorn bushes in their place, the queen creates visual propaganda. It reminds them of her magically enforced rule.
One thing that I don't like about this book is that there's a lot of backtracking. For a Quest Narrative, I find this frustrating. Kristina travels over the Indra River and then stuff happens and she goes back across it, and then she crosses it a third time before she gets to the Final Dungeon. There is also a sideplot with the bullies that exists separate from the main plot and contributes little other than the build up to a given character's Heel Face Turn. It makes the book longer. The climax itself is drawn out, zigzagged, and over passed until the resolution is not triumphant or tragic but just a relief that something finally happened.
I am left with a lot of questions at the end of this book. This is the sort of thing I'd have wondered about when I was a kid. One or two is fine but there are a lot in here.
What is the nature of Seintiz's curse? How does the Warble break it? What is the Warble? How did it get into Kristina's world? Why did Miss. Hersley have it? Why did she give it to Kristina? Why didn't she say anything about it to Kristina? Why did the Warble delay in activating the world jump? Why did all four of the kids land in the same place? If only the Warble can end the queen's reign then why is Werrien so important that one of her spies passes up a golden opportunity to steal it just to lure him out? Crows dropping grenades is cool, but were did the crows get them? Why do the king and queen have as many as five pieces of world traveling stone fashioned into jewelry and yet have no idea how they work beyond "red light means it's activating"? Are these things made from the same stuff as the Warble? Where did they get it?
Given that this is the first book in a series, I assume the answers are forth coming.
The ending, while not personally satisfying, does a good job of closing the book's conflict while leaving open the possibility of future conflict.
Kristina is what I like to call a Reconstruction of the Summon Everyman Hero. She is an Ordinary School Student from a non-magic world that is summoned to a magic world to be a savior. A deconstruction would point out that she is a child who has never been on her own before, so she should be scared, unsure of what to do, homesick, lacking adventurer skills etc. A reconstruction would rebut that, yes, she is all that stuff but she can still fulfil this role. First of all, she adapts quickly by recognizing the importance of resources like Fairy Blossoms, second is that she doesn't have to do everything herself (I.E. there is no Team Cannon Fodder here), and Werrien, who is more accustomed to travel and fighting, is the one carrying the Warble for most of the trip because he is better able to guard it.
Werrien is the deutragonist of this story and he is more typically The Hero of such stories than Kristina. He is the rightful prince of Bernovem who is currently living in hiding because of a usurper, he is skilled with bow and arrow, and he has the personal charisma to rally armies. Thus, he and Kristina are an example of when The Hero and The Protagonist are separate people; he rarely gets his own POV.
Miss Simcox has skill with making kids that are nasty and in a kid-like way. One of them is spoiled, the other is jerkish professional butt kisser, and the third is just stupid and self-interested. It would be hard to argue that any of them are evil, just immature and bratty. This leads to a Beauty Equals Goodness theme. Kristina and her friends/allies are all described as good looking and everyone else is ugly. The mundane world bullies are snotty and fat, while the zelbock mooks are disgusting creatures. The queen is implied to have used magic to make herself better looking and even then the part of her that the narration most often draws attention to is her claw-like finger nails. It's quite vivid.
I found perhaps two errors in grammar throughout the whole thing.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Warble" a C
This has been a free review request. I received nothing in exchange for it except a free copy of the book.
Click here for the next review request: The Rebel Trap
Click here for the previous review request: Tethered Worlds Unwanted Star