“When Rebecca finished the book, she had that yearning that only comes from a very good book: that the world was real, and she could be part of that wonderful group of characters.” This was the end of my review of the first book in Scarlett Thomas’ Worldquake series, Dragon’s Green published last summer.
About a month ago, I suddenly found myself wondering about Raven Wilde, a sweet friend of the hero in the Worldquake series. Whatever became of her? And then I wondered more: Has Maximillian kept himself from the darkness he is drawn to? Has Effie found herself inside more books? Did Wolf find who he was looking for? And I hardly got to know Lexie at all. The yearning was back, so I contacted the publisher and the Luminiferous Ether must have heard because the second book, The Chosen Ones, was recently published! I received a copy and enjoyed it very much.
I find it interesting that I used the world “yearning” in my previous review, since that is a plot point in the next book of this affecting series (I recommend it for late elementary or younger YA). Effie Truelove has lost the people in her family she counted on most in the first book, but gained a ring of friends and distant relatives that will support her in any future adventures. In this second book, she attempts to prove herself without help from those she has come to love, and winds up in a state called the Yearning, what happens when your spirit has run out of lifeforce. It’s a powerful concept illustrated brilliantly for a young audience. Recovery requires help from others and not giving in to fear.
It’s this kind of battle that I am impressed with in Thomas’ work. The characters certainly have adventures to other mythical worlds, sports matches with rival schools, horse rides across the moor, communicating with animals, and cool magical items, but there is depth in these pages. The heroes’ main battles are within themselves and their relationships with family and friends. Although some evil must be vanquished by physical means, the bad guys are often done in by being more clever, and letting the villains destroy themselves, with the children as witnesses to their folly.
The Chosen Ones, like Dragon’s Green, is the title, but also refers to a book within the novel.The fantasy book within a fantasy book is done well. In the author’s world, books are places to travel to, gain power from, and save from those of greedy and/or destructive intentions. The Chosen Ones is a very popular children’s fantasy series written by Raven’s mother, Laurel Wilde, who was incredibly rich from it, although she has no idea that magic actually exists and that her daughter is a practitioner. “In the real world, Raven’s world, magical power was limited. In Laurel Wilde’s books, anyone… could do pretty much anything they wanted with simply a flick of their thin white wrist (they were all white).”
Our hero, Effie, has to get one of the last remaining copies of The Chosen Ones to give to her greedy father, so he’ll return what’s rightfully hers, so she can get back to the Otherworld and prove she belongs there. Unfortunately, most of the books have been destroyed by Skylurian Midzhar, the publisher, in order to create one single edition. Midzhar plans to sell this last copy of one of the most popular books of all time to Albion Freake, the richest man in the world. Raven and Effie know something more is going on, suspecting the Diberi, a group of evil magic users. They need Maximilian, Lexie, and Wolf’s help to figure out what is happening and save each other and the magic they are just starting to discover.
The name Laurel Wilde reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous author in our world, which makes me wonder if I’m missing a lot of other literary references in this series. Thomas is not only a writer, but an English professor. Thomas has a scene in this novel where the children in a class have been given an assignment: “They’d had to write a story about their summer vacation that was not true, but that they wished had been true… It was the most fun thing they had ever done in school. For some poor children, it was the most fun thing they had ever done in their lives.”
The writing style flows and I appreciate good descriptions: “She had giggled then, and it was a cold, harsh noise, like a stalactite falling in a remote cave and shattering into a million icy pieces.” And the dry humor was enjoyable: “And surely even the most philistine child would agree that opera is slightly better than being executed.”
“Effie was not a bad person, but she sort of half hoped that he might die, or at least get lost somewhere along the way…”
Any scene including Coach Bruce was amusing:
“…And how are we going to beat them?”
“Cheat?” Suggested someone.
“We will call it strategy,” said Coach Bruce.
The world building is creative. I especially enjoyed how entering a certain realm takes being moved by music and art, which literally moves you to this otherworld. Her descriptions of Maximilian appreciating classical music for the first time were great. “Maximilian was the youngest person in the hall by about 150 years.” Effie gets obsessed with a book called The Repertory of Kharakter, Art & Shade, which is a series of personality tests that help you figure out what magical powers you are best for. Effie wants to know her Art, since she is sure she already is a True Hero. As a reader it was impossible not to try to figure out what Kharakter and Art I am. We never learn too much about Shade in this novel; hopefully in the next.
This is not an affectionate tale. In much of the book, Effie is struggling with feelings of inadequacy. She often feels bad, but never tells any of her friends. In fact, most of the group don’t really tell each other much unless it has to do with direct plot. Wolf is in a very bad life situation, but no one has a clue. The majority of the story has the children off in different directions. Except for the tennis match, they rarely work together. They rely on each other to save the world, but not to hold each other’s hand in the dark. Even when Effie has the Yearning, or when they are all afraid for her life, we know they are concerned, but don’t witness many outward displays. I think there are two hugs in the book, described as “awkward” and “stiff.” It is rare for any character to actual say what they are feeling, though the characters will offer some brief words of encouragement. There are looks of great meaning. Love is mostly shown by doing things for each other.
When Effie has the Yearning, she is helped by Pelham Longfellow, an adult friend from the Otherworld, who has ties to her mother. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the Yearning and real-world depression. As a parent with a child who has suffered severe depression, it was moving to watch Effie learn how to deal with it and recover.
My only disappointment with The Chosen Ones is that it mainly focused on our hero, Effie. I like Effie, but I wanted to get to know all the children better. They are all there and certainly have a place in the story. Maximillian especially learns a lot in this novel, and Raven finds herself in the midst of all the trouble, but Lexie and Wolf are just along for the ride. Effie meets another boy, Leander, whom she connects with, though not necessarily a friend. We get snippets about him, and I’m curious what their relationship might be in the future. The ending felt a bit rushed too. At 376 pages, I know, I know, editing and all that, but I like them all and want to read about them MORE. That’s a good thing.