Although I don’t read it much anymore, I grew up on fantasy. When I heard that Callie Bates’ first novel was published, I ordered a copy right away. A fantasy novel like no other, The waking land is a delight.
Held captive most of her life after her father’s failed revolution attempt, Elanna is a half-prisoner, half-adopted-daughter of the king that her father tired to overthrow. The king takes her at age five as collateral for ending the revolution attempt and in exchange for her father’s life. The princess is not happy about having Elanna around so she is left on her own most of the time, except for the dottings of the king who has taken a liking to her. Since she was taken so young, Elanna beliefs the king’s version about her family and the failed rebellion, not wanting anything to do with her parents that let her be abducted and never fought to get her back. At 19 now, she has only resentment and distain for her past and culture. Being raised in the city, away from the countryside and farmland of her people, she knows nothing of them and doesn’t care. However, that all begins to change when the king dies and his mean-spirited daughter becomes queen.
While there are similarities with other fantasy novels, the core of the fantasy in The waking land is unique, compared to what else I have read. Elanna has magical abilities that she has suppressed since childhood, especially since the city and the king abhor magic. Unlike the typical spell-learning common in fantasy, the magic in the novel is natural–as in connected to nature. Not many are alive anymore with such abilities but for those like Elanna who has them, with concentration she can interact with nature and natural elements. When she touches any living plants, they begin to grow and blooms at a rapid pace. As she accepts her powers and decides/needs to use them as the story progresses, she can make a torrential thunderstorm appear at will and even convince the trees to join in the new rebellion and help protect her people and homeland. One quirk about the magic is that it is all consuming of her and she teeters on the brink of being in control of herself; as she channels nature, it uses her as a conduit so that the nature and animals fuse with her as she increase magical capabilities. It’s more instinctual than intellectual/learned magic. Fascinating idea!
The story itself is a fairly fast-paced adventure from the start. As Elanna settles into her reluctant role in the new revolution attempt, the stakes and drama increase, she becomes more committed to the cause. Amidst the rebellion, though, Elanna and Jahan, who is from another region and has his own type of magic, begin a tenuous relationship especially as it is unclear who’s side he is truly on. As it has complicating ties with the story, the relationship plot line fits well within it.
Callie is a college friend and classmate from Lawrence University, which makes it all the more enjoyable to read her first novel. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy and reading more about Elanna and her world.
Recommended?: Yes, especially for fantasy and nature lovers. An older teen could read the novel, along with adults. While there are some battles and fighting, violent scenes are minimal. There is a brief sex scene but the rest of the romance is flirtatious. Much of the novel focuses on the beauty of the land, with vivid descriptions of nature. For me, these are some of the best parts and make the world in the novel more immersive.