This book was just beautiful – a great start to what I am confident will be an excellent series!
The Great Tree of Avalon is refreshing to me because it is the first “high fantasy” series I’ve read in awhile – and I personally think high fantasy is the most interesting of the Fantasy subgenres because it is so absorbing but also really difficult to create. The Wardstone books, by contrast, are more parallel-fantasy, in that they're supposed to be this "off-world" of real-life Lancashire... that's thoroughly confusing, isn't it :P ?
- T. ABarron’s prose is absolutely beautiful – somewhat lofty, but more along the lines of elegant and occasionally didactic. He is still a “modern author” and you can see differences between his style and say, the 50s-60s style of C.S. Lewis or Lloyd Alexander, but he’s pretty close. I’d say Barron and maybe Clare Dunkle come the closest to emulating that style. In other words, his writing is a long, far cry from “text speech.”
All his characters are beautifully crafted and well-rounded. The central figure, to be sure, is a young wilderness wanderer named Tamwyn, whose hidden identity is the key to a prophecy made years ago. What I like about the Avalon series – and was kind of surprised to discover – is the really large ensemble cast of characters and how big of a role they play. I was totally expecting the story to revolve almost exclusively around Tamwyn and the search for his true identity, but the perspective follows several other characters, including Scree, his adopted eagleboy brother; Elli, a fiery priestess with a sketchy past; a haughty seer-in-training named Llynia who believes herself to be the next Chosen One (note: there’s always a bloody Chosen One! Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Anakin Skywalker…); a captured elf maiden named Brionna, and the nefarious villain of the book, a mysterious wizard known only as White Hands.
I liked the different perspectives, even if I’m not sure I’d have so many in my own stories. What I like about Barron, though, is how clearly defined each perspective shift is – it’s mostly switched over on a chapter-by-chapter basis, so there’s no confusion. The only frown-worthy thing about the book has to do with the designated Prophecy (note: there’s always a bloody prophecy!). I couldn’t really understand why everybody – the other characters and myself, the reader – could figure out what the prophecy was saying but our sweet, adorable little MC Tamwyn couldn’t! It’s like, “hello, Mcfly!” (Back to the Future, anyone?) But oh well.
The number one Must, though, about writing fantasy – at least in my opinion – is Make It Believable! It’s like a deal that the reader and author enter into – in exchange for the reader’s initial suspension of disbelief, the author needs to provide a clearly-defined and clearly-written world that comes alive through the story. Barron totally succeeded. And the idea of Avalon is particularly creative: the entire world – seven realms – all stems from one Great Tree…named Avalon. Each of the seven realms: Mudroot, Woodroot, Stoneroot, Airroot, Shadowroot, Waterroot, and Fireroot, are all roots of the Great Tree. That’s an awesome concept, once you wrap your mind around it! And everything is so vivid and described in such wondrous detail, you can easily visualize this world and believe in its existence.
I will say, though: that the story develops at a pretty steady pace. Not a slow pace, mind you, but it’s about pg 150 before the true plot begins to unravel. That’s okay, I think, because Barron budgets his time wisely by going ahead and setting up the world of Avalon and its history; so many authors ignore detail and leave you feeling confused or hollow about this fantasy world…he reminds me a lot of Tolkien in the way he includes the history and the art/literature of his world. It’s even more incredible when you remind yourself that everything – every song, every story – is entirely made up.
Wow! Rating: I really need to figure out a clean and simple way to do this – I love my blog buddy Juju @ Tales of Whimsy who has a Kiddie-O-Meter and an Adult-O-Meter which really quickly goes into content. There’s what I would call PG-level language (but it’s there, and it’s funny in my opinion – I usually never here the MC say “damn” but oh well…!) and PG-13 level violence (there’s actually quite a violent scene in the Prologue section that didn’t really surprise me per see, but seemed almost out-of-place considering this is an Intermediate-level YA… and like no sex, which is always a plus in Amelialand :)
Final Rating: 5/5. EXCELLENT! YOU MUST READ THIS SERIES!!!