In Baker’s debut fantasy novel, two realms are poised for war before finding out that decades of fear and suspicion have been based on myth and misperceptions.
In a world hidden from humans, Fallons are able to sprout wings and fly, Garnios are fast and froglike, gnomish Nipoos are brave and stubborn, troll-like Trehwells are gentle homebodies, and humanoid wise men are (puzzlingly) called “Etruscans.” Among these beings, the residents of the realm of Scaysborough fear those in the distant land of Tremlite, where a mysterious being called the Lurkin is said to possess the power to stir up “anger and hatred” among the locals. When a freshwater lake suddenly turns salty, killing the fish, Scaysborough elders blame the Lurkin and the Tremlites, so they send a band of seven—three Fallons, an Etruscan, a Trehwell, the Queen of the Nipoos, and a small Garnio—on a quest to learn what else their supposed enemies are plotting. Various mishaps and misunderstandings lead to the travelers separating, resulting in direct encounters with Tremlites. But although the latter are equally suspicious of the Scaysborough inhabitants, they still offer them help and friendship. In fact, some conflicts are over before they start; at one point, a character is reassured of strangers’ intentions simply by looking into their eyes. Still, Baker clearly and appealingly defines the fantasy elements of her alternative world. The adventures are mild (aside from a few wing injuries), but the characters all have distinct and relatable personalities. Although some of the author’s character-building lessons lack subtlety, they do encourage empathy for others, openness to differences, the benefits of mindfulness, and, startlingly, the price of substance abuse; an injured Fallon wallows in a pain-numbing, drunken haze with a boy’s neglectful, “stumbling drunk” parents. That character’s temporary “Fall from Grace” is presaged with this chapter-opening advisory: “Do not let go of your wise mind, as your body without guidance is like a flower without a stem— left to the mercy of the wind of desires.”
A fantasy that weaves in messages of empathy leavened by quirky characters and imaginative worldbuilding.