Sunday, May 26, 2013

Teller (Chris Howard)

(The Rootworld Cycle, Book 1)
Chris Howard
Lykeion Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Andin Teller used to love his mother's stories, so much so that they seemed to come alive around him. Tales woven around a woman fleeing a power-mad mother, taking her son across whole worlds to escape the woman's fearless, dark-winged hunters... but they were just stories, and as the years passed, Andin's mother Emily told them less and less often. He's almost forgotten how her words seemed to change reality. Almost.
When strange attackers invade their New Age gift shop and kidnap Emily, Andin finds pieces of his mother's fantastic tales coming true around him. With the help of two steadfast friends - resourceful Itoshi and half-crazy Taryn - he must confront enemies from beyond this world... and the dangerous powers lurking in his own unique blood.

REVIEW: This book isn't easy to rate. On one hand, it offers a great idea: Tellers, people gifted with the ability to change the world with their words or art or sheer belief. On the other, it ventures into downright surreal territory, with occasional bursts of impenetrable prose. The story itself doesn't help. Andin's mother takes after too many parents in fantasy tales, withholding vital information from her offspring until it's too late to do them any good. He's left to fumble through learning his Teller gifts on his own, endangering numerous lives in the process. He has a fairly competent crew with Itoshi and Taryn, though the latter's knocked out of commission halfway through and doesn't actually do much until the very end of the book. Andin's grandmother is a monster in every sense of the word, as are most of his enemies. Indeed, they all seem to be part of an immortal race intent on inheriting the Earth once humans are done with it, one way or the other. (I have to wonder just what kind of planet they think we'll leave behind; we're not exactly a light-footed species...) Round about this time, the book veers into Deep Waters, pulling apart the tangled strands of reality and story and consciousness while twisting the very nature of the universe as Andin and his rivals rewrite their realities in a power struggle that would seem to be impossible to resolve. That's an awful lot of weight to drop onto a story about a boy rescuing his mom and discovering his gifts, enough to smother this reader. By the end, I could barely keep track of the convoluted plot, with so many enemies and rivalries and interlocking layers of power and reality, all ultimately tied back to some other world that may or may not even be real... Ergh. I confess I gave up trying to make sense of it all; a sequence where Andin's memory is erased (but the reader's isn't) nearly broke me. It ended in a way that may or may not have resolved some of the problems facing Andin, though the fact that it's Book 1 of a "cycle" indicates that trouble (and likely more lyrical meanderings into the nature of reality) will no doubt find him again.
So, what am I left with, in the end? The writing itself is decent enough, when it's not too tangled up in Profound Ideas and bizarre knots. The characters aren't bad, even if they aren't always smart. I liked some of the ideas Howard presented, as well, even if others trickled over the line between fascination and confusion - but, then, I've never been a huge fan of excessive surreality in my stories. Ultimately, I split the difference with a dead-even Okay rating.
As a closing note, Amazon lists two versions, one in paperback and one on Kindle; since, normally, all versions show up under the same listing, I have to assume there is some difference between the two editions. Since it was the Kindle version I read, that's the one I linked to.

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