Sunday, October 4, 2015

Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp)

(A Doon novel, Book 1)
Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When Veronica's boyfriend cheats on her with her school rival, she almost expects it. After all, everyone else in her life leaves her or betrays her; first her dad disappeared after succumbing to drug addiction, then her mother latches onto a creep and ignores her. Vee's only constant is Mackenna, her BFF since forever. Ken's been begging her to join her at the family cottage in Scotland for the summer - a change of scenery that Vee desperately needs. Especially since she's started hallucinating in broad daylight, visions of a blonde, kilt-clad demigod of a man beckoning her.
Mackenna's life is going just the way she wants, with an theater internship in Chicago waiting this fall. The cottage in Alloway has always been her sanctuary, home of her beloved aunt Gracie, so hopefully it'll help her best friend Vee. Unfortunately, Gracie was something of a dreamer and a storyteller, not helped by Alloway being the home of the famed Brig o' Doon, a bridge made famous in Robert Burns's poetry and the musical Brigadoon as a gateway to a magical Scottish kingdom suspended in time. With Vee on the edge of a possible mental breakdown, this may not have been the best place for a vacation... especially when she claims to find "proof" of her hallucinations in Gracie's old journals.
When the two best friends don a pair of magic rings - legacy of Gracie - and step onto the bridge, they find themselves pulled into the kingdom of Doon, a realm that only rarely touches on the real world. Here, Vee finds herself face-to-face with her Scottish vision - but he hardly welcomes her with open arms. Indeed, the girls' arrival creates little but unrest, tied to disturbing signs that Doon's ancient enemy, a coven of witches, is once more threatening their paradise.

REVIEW: This one looked to be headed for a Good rating fairly early on. Vee and Ken are believable best friends, balancing each other's moods and practically reading each other's minds after so many years together. Vee's the tortured one, with little money and a loveless home life, expecting rejection and disappointment around every corner, though Ken's not impervious to trouble and doubts herself. Likewise, the royal brothers Jamie (Vee's vision) and Duncan (who takes to Ken) have enough flaws to keep from being cardboard cutout Scottish hotties. Responsibilities and conflicting dreams, not to mention some personality conflicts that no visions could have adequately alleviated, place extra strain on the budding relationships. There's sufficient angst over these, pushing close to my personal limit but not quite crossing the line to outright tedium. Though there is common acknowledgment of "Callings" of True Love, this story actually allows for free will; being Called is not the all-powerful trump card, and sometimes things just can't work, even between "soul mates."
Doon isn't the village from the musical, but a full-blown kingdom that is not immune to the outside world so much as highly selective about what it adopts during each "Centennial" opening of the bridge (occurring once every hundred years of Earth time, but twenty-odd years apart in Doon.) With outsiders "called" to the bridge by the kingdom's Divine Protector (more on this in a bit), the end result is a more inclusive magic kingdom, with indoor plumbing and printing presses, as well as African watercolor artists and international cuisine. This, thankfully, alleviates some of the common portal-fantasy cliches, such as locals completely misunderstanding modern slang (or considering them "wizards" for knowing about electricity and gunpowder) or modern visitors looking down on the locals for not having modern conveniences. It also puts the characters on more even footing... but then there's the whole threat of the evil witches and the demands of the Divine Protector.
And here is where the story lost its fourth star, as it becomes increasingly apparent that this is not a young adult fantasy/romance revisit to Brigadoon, but a work of Christian fiction that tries to hide itself by only belatedly using the word "God." The witch is an evil hag who only exists to be evil - and, naturally, perpetuate the whole wicked witch stereotype. She's an enemy who, in a tradition that extends far beyond Christian fiction to many genres, apparently has the power to squash all the good guys like so many bugs, but would rather monologue and engage in theatrics than doing The Thing they've warped their entire existences to do. The Divine Protector seems capable of doing everything but actually defeating the evil threatening the kingdom - indeed, if It's so powerful, how the heck is Doon ever threatened by the minor, petty failings of Its two-legged tools? And the more the story goes on, especially as the climax closes in, the more the plot boils down to the power of blind faith - in other words, if evil's winning, you're just not praying hard enough, so failure's your fault for not believing. (There's also a not-so-subtle subtext that a woman can only fulfill God's will and find True Love if they're willing to give up their own dreams, and failure to do so will result in lifelong regrets.)
I liked the character interplays, and the descriptions of Doon were lovely, evoking a fairy-tale world for young adults. But the message of Faith and God grew nauseatingly blatant by the end. While I'm somewhat curious about the sequel, I don't know if I can take another story that boils down to "pray like there's no tomorrow, if you flinch you lose, but, hey, supposedly God loves you or you wouldn't be suffering to begin with."

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Inscription (Pam Binder) - My Review
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) - My Review
Brigadoon - Amazon DVD Link

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