Video Game Meets Fairy Tale
I would recommend this book for middle-grade readers just getting started in the fantasy genre, video game fans, and fans of plot-driven works. The book also contains lots of elements of video games—potions, quests, professions, etc.—that would resonate with video game fans.
The plot of this book moves along quickly, making it ideal for a young independent reader or a parent reading the book chapter-by-chapter to a child before bed. Almost right away, Queen Laurali of the Elves makes it clear that Halli, an 18-year-old dwarf, will play an important role in the story. She sends a messenger for the five other important characters while going to pick up Halli herself before setting off to defeat the evil ruler. And just like that, before we even settle in, the quest has begun.
I enjoy fantasy novels, but I’m often frustrated by being bogged down by too much detail. That said, in this story I was disappointed by the lack of detail. While the plot of this story is inherently engaging, the fairy-tale style of the story left it vulnerable to “telling” rather than “showing.” With almost no description in the first chapter, I was left to rely on stereotypes and my imagination to picture the elf and the dwarf. But there were plenty of opportunities for more detail. For instance, I would be interested in learning what Halli’s experiences in school were like. What happens at a dwarf school? I wasn’t told until the very end. We are also told that Halli has been quite shy her whole life, yet has been demonstrating the qualities of a Holy Paladin for years. I would have liked to see these traits in action, rather than rely on other characters to tell me they are so. The dwarf is also called “beautiful,” but we are never given a crystal clear description of her. I have only to rely on stereotypes I have seen/read about dwarfs–whose hardened, battle-ready features are usually not beautiful… We are also told about a love interest between Halli and another member of the party, but we are never shown the chemistry between them, even in innocuous ways, until the last chapter, so I feel like I’m missing out.
The other thing I would have appreciated would be shifting points of view. The story was told largely through an omniscient lens, which led to much telling rather than showing. I would have liked to get into more of the characters’ heads to experience what they were thinking and feeling. But then again, I am a fan of character-driven stories (and am guilty of falling asleep during action films in movie theatres!)
The benefit of this Spartan style, though, is that it’s a quick read. It’s only 114 pages, which is far shorter than most fantasy works. This would benefit reluctant readers and young readers who avoid long fantasy novels because of overly-dense description.
The strength of this story is the message. Presenting Halli as a role model, Buginsky is urging children to follow their inner flame, having confidence in their abilities and reaching their full potential. I would recommend this book for a parents and child to read together before bed—it would open the way for a positive discussion, or for a beginning independent reader, as the story focuses mostly on plot rather than description.
The book is marketed as young adult, but I think based on the level of detail presented, I would recommend the book for a younger crowd. I look forward to the next installment, but I hope the author adds a bit more detail.