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Bookends: This fantasy is a cautionary tale February 18, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: This fantasy is a cautionary taleFire reapers

By Dan Davidson

September 3, 2014

– 754 words –


The Fire Reapers

By Patricia Robertson

Linnaea Press

439 pages



Patricia Robertson’s first novel for young adult readers is of that type known as the “timeslip novel”. This involves a person from one time frame – usually the present, as in Diana J. Gabaldon’s Outlander series – being displaced in time. This can be either backwards or forwards. A variation of this plot device is currently being used in the TV series Continuum, in which characters from several different possible futures have been dropped into something like our present.

When this works well, as it does in Robertson’s novel, it provides us with a “stranger in a strange land” character who has to discover all the ins and outs of his or her new circumstances. We learn them along with him, which saves us from being subjected to a large number of “information dumps” along the way.

Twelve-year old Neil has only recently relocated from Vancouver to Whitehorse. That’s a lot to get used to right there. Suddenly he’s living in a house that’s more like a long cabin, tucked into the bluff on one side of the city. While exploring he meets an old timer who tells him what sounds like a crazy story about a guy named Tombstone Charlie, in whose house he is now living. Charlie disappeared one day three years ago after spending a lot of time on his private quest to find a “door into the future,” which he believed would be a better place.

Neil thinks the whole idea is nutty, until he wakes up in the middle of the night, finds his dog barking at what seems to be a flame lined hole in the air, stumbles through it, and finds himself somewhere and somewhen else.

Neil and Freya have been transported centuries into the future, where climate change is no longer open to debate and most of the Yukon and NWT have become a desert. After last summer’s fires in the NWT, that seems less of a leap than it might have when Robertson was writing this book.

The future isn’t always a better place. In this one an insane religion has developed whose followers worship fire, believe trees are evil, and have set out to eliminate them from the planet. Their actions are intended to bring about a Last Stand in which the world will be destroyed by fire and then, somehow, reborn.

This world is an odd mix of retro-village life and high-tech cities, the latter controlled by the devotees of the Fire Reapers. There are all sorts of hybrid creatures in this world. Some of them have been around since time immemorial, hiding from humankind. Others are the result of genetic breeding experiments by earlier human civilizations. Possibly the strangest of all is a talking rock, a stone with a decidedly dim view of the humans it has been tasked to assist.

Early on, Neil is captured by Fire Reapers, but he and his dog escape and are rescued by rural villagers living in quiet resistance to the dominant faith. He becomes friends with Astra, a girl about his age whose father has also been experimenting with remote viewing of other times through the use of a device called a Memory Stone.

When the village is attacked by the Fire Reapers, the two young people and the dog escape, and they begin a quest that takes them from group to group of strange beings. Every one they meet is somehow certain that they are special youngsters who are the key to overcoming the reign of the Fire Reapers and stopping the destruction of the world at their hands.

The kids aren’t so sure about all this, but they make an effort to try and save some of their friends, and Astra’s father, who have been captured and taken to the cult’s city and fortress.

As is typical of this genre, there are many attempts and failures, much hardship, meetings with strange beings and some large scale fighting. As this narrative mostly sticks close to Neil’s point of view, with smaller sections from Astra and some from Charlie (yes, they do find him), most, though not all, of the fighting is reported at second hand.

In a tradition going back to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and L. Frank Baum’s Oz, there is a resolution after the climax and Neil returns to his everyday life without anyone being aware of his adventure.









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