Litwack (The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, 2014) begins a new fantasy series about a post-apocalyptic future run by religious fanatics.
In the quiet village of Little Pond, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Orah are teenage friends on the verge of adulthood. What responsibilities will they shoulder in their rural society, which frowns upon music, forbids unsanctioned books, and discourages imagination? As tradition dictates, a vicar arrives from the Temple of Light to choose someone among the new adults who needs a “teaching,” a mysterious ritual from which the chosen return quite somber. Although Nathaniel dreams of adventure and wants to see the magical Temple City, the vicar chooses Thomas instead. It turns out that the teaching process involves solitary confinement and other mental manipulations to crush people’s wills and keep the villagers from flirting with “darkness.” Soon after Thomas returns as a dead-eyed husk, Nathaniel learns of the temple’s true nature; when the vicars take Orah, Nathaniel is outraged, so he travels to Temple City and offers to take the girl’s place. While temporarily confined, he meets another prisoner named Samuel, who explains that the temple’s magic actually came from a prior society that prized individual freedom and creativity. Somewhere, he says, is a hidden keep full of wonders, and if it’s found by the right person, its secrets could start a revolution. As Litwack opens his meticulously crafted new series, he aids his righteous protagonists with a series of magical scrolls, written clues, and cooperative “keepers.” He effectively describes how the Temple of Light uses doublespeak to praise its monoculture and vilify the era of darkness, in which “people spoke different languages and worshipped different gods.” The author never veers into zealotry himself, however, always exploring both sides of the progress-versus-security argument (“Perhaps the quest for knowledge brought change faster than it could be assimilated,” muses a vicar). Orah, meanwhile, provides the soul of the narrative: a young woman who’s wistful and optimistic by turns and who understands that although “nothing can compete with childhood,” there’s no going back.
A tightly executed first fantasy installment that champions the exploratory spirit.