Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Building Conversations Across Generations: Steven Booth's Dark Talisman

Today, we are very excited to bring you Fantasy Matter's first father-daughter review.  Lindsay Craig and his daughter Eleanor both read Steven Booth's new novel Dark Talisman (which was released yesterday), and then each of them shared their thoughts about the novel.  As Lindsay told me in an email, this joint reading of the book inspired "some very good writing talks about fantasy and quality" at their house, which made the novel itself "a talisman of sorts."  After reading their reviews, you can then enter a giveaway to win a copy of the novel for yourself!

Eleanor Craig:

Steven M. Booth’s Dark Talisman pulls the reader into a fantasy world filled with adventure, fear and magic.  Readers will love this amazing tale of a dark elf who sets out to rob a sultan and ends up getting way more than she anticipated.

Booth keeps the reader hooked with unexpected surprises around every corner.  He creates wonderful, complex charcters who have to work together to figure out what is happening in their world.  The plot is very intriguing and delightful.  His novel is well written and great for older readers.

Lindsay Craig:

Steven Booth crafts a brooding but enjoyable fantasy tale for younger readers in Dark Talisman, the first installment of his Guardians series. While hewing to many of the conventions of fantasy and traditional epic tales in crafting the land of Salustra, (there is Good and there is Bad; elves are sprightly and nature-bound, while dwarves are rougher, gruffer sorts; there is a single magical implement whose power is revealed in stages to the heroine), Booth weaves such a fascinating number of familiar or nearly familiar references and motifs into the first few chapters of his book that new fantasy readers are quickly drawn into tense action, while being assured that this is capital “F” fantasy.

Small gestures of language, such as cubits and leagues for measurement, bring the idea of distance in time and perception to the text, and certainly for younger readers lend an air of difference from other books at hand. Booth judges his audience well in several places, such as the central object itself being first found within a magic-guarded cabinet: here are shades of Lewis’s wardrobe that will resonate with parents and other experienced readers, again nestling the story within a comfortable definition of the genre. The evergreen Beowulf story of a thief awakening some untold machinery of events by stealing a small item underpins Altira’s tale – and though this is familiar ground, Altira is no Bilbo Baggins! She is an archetype of teen rebelliousness, and carries the compounding burdens of being an orphan and possessing secrets in her past, unknown to her but not unnoted in those dark elves who are her community as the story opens.

Altira’s independence and impudence combine to move both interior and exterior action, but at times Booth deprecates other characters around her too greatly. One example of this tendency is a scene when the Dar, the leader of the dark elf community, summons Altira to his chamber after she has stolen the talisman. Clearly great matters are afoot for the elves, and great danger, but instead of revealing any of this to Altira, the Dar resembles a teen’s vision of an unfair parent, petty and driven by irritation rather than showing any depths that would hint at his true nature or the gravity of the situation. Altira, out of keeping with the intelligent though impulsive character she is, neither presses the Dar for details nor offers anything more than sullen replies. Though many readers, particularly younger ones, might not worry over this scene, it rings off from other moments when Altira displays greater depth than “angry young elf” attitude, and holds back the continuity of the world Booth crafts.

As Altira propels the reader further into the intertwined world of Guardians and Companions, more depth is found within her, and more action required of her, as befits a heroic journey tale. Because this is very much a first installment of a longer series, many of the facets of Salustra – the races, languages, geography, and history –are not fully explained, nor should they be. For just as the dark talisman becomes an invitation for Altira to discover who she may really be, so is Dark Talisman an invitation for young readers to discover both what Salustra is in later volumes, and to further explore fantasy literature itself.

By Lindsay and Eleanor Craig

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