Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Amulet

The Amulet
by Alison Pensy
Recommended Ages: 14+

People who have read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - soon to be a motion picture - may know a little about Red Caps. As Faedra Bennett approaches age 17, it becomes urgent that she learn a lot more. Unknown to her until her 18th birthday, she has already been in peril more than once from the evil little creatures whose eyes glow yellow in the dark, and who (she learns later) never feel quite like themselves without a fresh coat of somebody else's blood on their caps. They're coming after her because, although she hardly knows it, she is descended from a line of humans who used to be fae, or fairies, and like her late mother, she is the custodian of an amulet that in the wrong hands could destroy our world, and other worlds besides.

About that "other worlds" bit - there are others, you know. They are linked by a series of portals, like the one near the church in Faedra's hometown, which leads to Azran, the world of fairies. Almost the moment she learns fairies are real, she also discovers that one of them has been sleeping by her side since the day of her mother's funeral 10 years ago. Her faithful Great Pyrenees dog named Faen is, in fact, a gorgeous, 200-ish young man named Faen. He actually has wings but is too shy to show them to her. He also has a sister who, when she isn't in the form of a border collie, is a lovely winged girl who guards the portal to Azran.

When autumn comes early everywhere, and all the plant life in the world suddenly starts to die, these three young (or young-looking) heroes travel to Azran to find out what's up. What's up is, someone has kidnapped the fairy king's daughter Vivianna and stolen the Book of Ahnos, which goes with Faedra's amulet and can be used to control the weather. They have to get it back before everything goes wrong. But to do that, they must survive a Red Cap trap at Faedra's birthday party (Surprise! Now die!), solve a prophetic riddle set by the forest god Kernunnos, and win a battle against superior numbers and (in Faedra's case) sword-fighting skills, against an enemy who has a mysterious, personal grudge against her.

It all goes very quickly. Faedra's discovery of her magical destiny is enough to make your head whirl, and though much of the fantasy takes place in the real world, it includes the interesting possibility of future adventures across several different worlds. Azran is interestingly depicted as a wonderful place that we first see on one of its worst days ever; you experience scenes of devastation and loss with a simultaneous sense of spectacular beauty and magical possibilities. There is a nice, juicy romance to enjoy, as well as some exciting combat action, a glimpse at the dietary problems that can come of developing a kick-ass magical power, and horseback scenes that actually show signs of being written by someone who has riding experience. All in all it is a well-paced and enjoyable adventure.

This is the first novel of the Faedra Bennett/Custodian quartet, whose other titles include The Emerald Staff, The Cypher Wheel, and The Ice Diamond Cuff. Their English-born author, who also writes adult romance novels such as A Summer Down Under under the pen-name Adrianna Blakely, lives just outside the small Missouri town where I live; in fact, I recently interviewed her for a newspaper story about the little farm she shares with her American-born husband. I don't know if it makes the world seem smaller, or my little community seem bigger, when I get to chat in person with an author who can write knowledgeably about both England and Australia (where she worked as a jilleroo, or girl ranch-hand, in her youth). She even prepared my tax returns for me this year, really a multi-talented lady! And while, like pretty much every self-published book I have read to-date, this book could benefit from the advice of a book editor (mainly on minor issues like punctuation and hyphenation), I think she has the concept of a fantasy novel pretty well sewn up. I bought the whole quartet as a "boxed set" on Kindle, so I plan to read them all.

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