A California college student uses ancient African magic to travel through time in this fantasy debut.
Chloe Marshall—administrative assistant to a senator and a freshman at Cal State in Los Angeles—has always experienced preternatural occurrences. Sometimes the song on the radio will reflect the exact thought she’s having. Sometimes this happens three times in a row. She’s never told her conservative Christian mother about this of course. Her mother just wants Chloe to get a degree so she can get a good-paying job. She gives Chloe grief just for taking an African- American studies class. Something in the class sends Chloe’s mysterious powers into overdrive. When researching a project on Adam Clayton Powell Jr., she is momentarily swept back into the pastor’s Harlem. Later, in a Candomblé ritual with one of her classmates, she is told by a spirit, “Look for Oya, Exu and Ayodele.” Meanwhile, across the gulf of time, Ayodele of Igbogila is captured by enemy Dahomey tribesmen and sold into slavery to their white allies. Both Chloe and Ayodele will have to find faith in the religion of the Orisha—the gods of Africa—in order to overcome the troubles in their own eras and to reunite in what proves to be a family reunion across time. Johnson writes in a punchy, conversational prose that hews close to the voices of her characters: “None of her advisors had a clue about what was going on inside her. Everyone wanted to play it safe. Whatever happened to the ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ mentality?” The use of shifting perspectives, multiple timelines, and African-American spiritualism lends the book a distinctive charm, though the plot takes a while to truly get moving. Johnson follows secondary characters down narrative cul-de-sacs that distract from the larger story, and readers must reach 100 pages before anything truly fantastic happens. Though some of the dialogue borders on the didactic, readers looking for a mix of western African mysticism and speculative fiction should enjoy this work, the first installment of a series.
An appealing Afrocentric time-travel tale, hampered by a sluggish pace.
In Johnson’s (The Crossroads of Time, 2015, etc.) YA fantasy, an apprentice mage, searching for a possible cure to an epidemic, stumbles upon a nefarious plan at the atomic level.
It seems that a notoriously deadly purple plague has started to appear in Hadley Town. But the news is even worse for 14-year-old resident Jawan, the apprentice to the earth-mage Myrlo for the past eight years, as he learns that his parents’ house has been specifically quarantined. Determined to find a cure, he peruses his master’s research under a nanoscope and finds himself literally drawn in—that is, he mysteriously shrinks and winds up inside the cryptically labeled culture. It turns out that a fermion named Pym has summoned him to Nanosia, believing he’s the prophesied Big One from the Big World who’ll defeat Antipan, the ruler of the Realm of Chaos. Meanwhile, back in the larger world, fire-mage Elveston has a device that he claims will cure the plague. But he may have another scheme in mind involving the creation of pure energy with the help of his “accidental creation,” Gelic, a positron in Nanosia. The fact that positrons are unstable, though, could mean devastation for both worlds. To keep Nanosia from falling into disarray, Jawan may have to turn to something even more powerful and dangerous. The educational value of Johnson’s story is hard to miss: numerous characters are subatomic particles, which will pique the interest of younger readers who may be unfamiliar with bosons or gamma rays. But the author also stays true to the fantasy genre with her plot complications and characterizations: Jawan finds that getting back to the Big World is far from a simple task, and the villain Elveston is shown to be cruel to his journeyman (Jawan’s pal Loby) and distrusted by other elemental mages. The breezy prose is often humorous, especially when describing Jawan’s conspicuousness—he doesn’t spin or orbit like other Nanosians. There are also a few surprises, including the reason why Jawan feels that some of the subatomic folks that he meets (including the titular Queen Quanta) look familiar. Unfortunately, not everything gets resolved by the end—although this may indicate a potential sequel.
A creative tale which makes its fantasy science fun.