Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shadowbloom (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan)

(The Rhyme of the Willow series, Book 1)
Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan
Justin Sullivan, publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Axton and Aniva Rhyme may be twins, but their personalities couldn't be more different. Aniva has a chip on her shoulder the size of a tree, willing to bully anyone, even her own brother, into getting her way. Shy Axton, on the other hand, prefers schoolwork and books, letting his fears run his life. Both were left orphans by a car crash, leaving little more than dim memories of their real mother and father... until one of Axton's plants inexplicably bites them both, and they share a strangely vivid dream of that fiery crash - and a mysterious woman with yellow-green eyes who offered help...
Compelled by their dream, the Rhyme twins sneak out of their grandparents' house to the massive willow at the site of the crash - and are swept into a dark and dangerous world, a forest gone mad. Luminous vines, stone-barked trees, evil thorns, plants made of shadow... and not a single bird, insect, or animal to be seen. Stumbling upon an outpost of civilization, Axton and Aniva discover many shocks and surprises - not the least of which is that their parents may still be alive somewhere in this forbidding, deadly Garden.

REVIEW: A compellingly original fantasy, Shadowbloom starts quickly and rarely slackens its pace. Axton's shyness has crippled him, and continues to do so throughout the book, while Aniva's rage becomes entwined with a darker fate, threatening to consume her very soul. Together, they form one reasonably competent adventurer, exploring a world composed almost exclusively of plants... and ill-favored plant/human hybrids known as Wilds. It could've been just another lightweight kids-in-Wonderland tale, but the Sullivans weave in darker, more complex threads beneath the seeming utopia of the sheltered human enclaves, and both Rhyme twins find their lives changed in ways that many young adult authors wouldn't have dared. It almost earned itself another half-mark, but the ending felt a little awkward, even allowing for it being Book 1 of a series. (It also could've used slightly more diligent proofreading.) Nevertheless, it read fairly fast and I enjoyed the world... enough that I may finally find myself paying for a Kindle book when the second volume becomes available. (For a cheapskate like me, that's saying something...)

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