Fantasy books get a lot of flack from “established” literature. Children or young adult fantasy books get ignored by adult fantasy readers. So between the two, I guess it’s not surprising to find that this book is an undiscovered gem. But I urge anyone who has a few hours and spare 99p or whatever ridiculously cheap cost it is on amazon, to pick this book up and give it a try.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it so good, possibly because it conveys different things to different people. To me, I see a lot of is as an analogy for morality – moral codes, justice, love, selfishness; about growing up and understanding these things, about making the right decisions and becoming a good person in the face of a corrupt and terrible world. I guess that really appeals to me. Other people I know whom I’ve made to read it all had different interpretations or things they focused on, although they all enjoyed it just as much.
Ostensibly, WoaF is about a couple of kids who grow up in what is basically slavery and cruelty, escape, and keep going. There is no magic, all sword and no sorcery so to speak; there is no epic quest, save that of survival and endurance; there is nothing you will expect, and an ending that will surprise and touch you. But despite that, it IS magical, and it IS epic in its own right.
The supposed hero, Oriel, is a (somewhat ironic) example of the perfect hero; a force of nature who succeeds at everything he touches, who inspires everyone he meets. But to be honest, I actually think the hero of the book is Griff, his quiet companion/follower, who also escapes with Oriel and follows him from one adventure and conquest to the next. Griff is no leader among men, but he has an unshakable sense of morality, and never once makes the ‘wrong’ decision about anything. But for Griff, Oriel could easily have become a villian; his only interest is in being the best in a given situation, and he often aims towards that irrespective of the people who get hurt in the process. From Griff, Oriel learns to be a good person; from Oriel, Griff learns to be a strong person; and from Beryl, the third (and lately introduced) protagonist, both boys learn about love and sacrifice.
There are actually a lot of themes which some adults find upsetting, particularly the relationships between Oriel, Griff, and the two women characters. Rather than go into details or spoil things, I would remind readers that Cynthia Voigt is an avid feminist, and (in my opinion) her portrayal of Beryl and Merlis is designed to provoke and challenge (both the fantasy world she has made as well as the reader’s assumptions about Oriel’s character) rather than to blandly offend. As I’ve said before… (SPOILER ALERT)… Oriel isn’t truly heroic, and his actions in regards to both women underscore that more than anything else in the book. Whether or not he gets redeemed – well, you’ll have to read to find out.
A lot of so-called “children’s books” are books designed to ‘trick’ kids who don’t want to read, into reading. This book is NOT that. This book is for children who DO want to read, and for that reason I suspect it probably isn’t very popular among a lot of younger readers, certainly when compared to the other 3 books in the series, which are comparatively a lot simpler, and definitely more kid-like. It is also likely to get missed over by adults, who will just see “a kid’s book” and not give it a try, but actually it has a LOT going for adult readers.
In short, if you want an alternative to JK Rowling these days, try this.
If you like Gene Wolfe’s writing and aren’t too proud to read a young adult’s book, you will probably find something to enjoy.
If you like Ursula LeGuin, you’ll probably also enjoy this book; it’s that same kind of distant, epic-style narrative with an emphasis on heavy characterisation and character development.
If you like this review you might like the book =) If you think I’m an arrogant twit then you probably won’t 😉
View all my reviews