Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fantasy book review of Fallenwood by Leslie Soule

Soul searching in the alternative realm of Fallenwood
Unable to shake off her grief over the death of her stepfather, Ashley Kensington plods through each day without finding much meaning in her life. Although Ash takes college classes, she has no real idea of what she might do with her life, and her deadend job at a home improvement box store does nothing to brighten her days. Stuck in this relentless malaise, she runs off into the woods one evening after scattering the ashes of her stepfather with her family. She then blunders magically into the alternative world of Terra Illumina, also known as Fallenwood.

The author Leslie Soule opens the story with Ash in the familiar setting of our real world and then switches her narrative into a lush fantasy inspired by the classic hero's journey. The young Ash will be assisted by several helpful friends in the world of Fallenwood as she confronts her deepest fears, accepts that she has been wasting her life, finds new purpose, discovers her inner powers, and saves the world.

Fallenwood is a fast paced tale that takes a lot of twists and turns and throws a lot of characters at you. Sometimes the narrative suffers from too much switching around, which interrupts the flow, but the emphathetic Ash always steers the story back on course because she is so easily relatable. Even as the adventures grew challenging, I could always agree with Ash that it was better than putting in another shift as a cashier in a box store.

A big cast of characters populates this novel. Will Everett, Ash's main companion, felt remote to me. To me he was never quite fleshed out, but Greymalkin the Cat made up for Will's flatness. Greymalkin had been magically transformed into a cat from a man, but he can still talk. Soule includes a charming side story with Greymalkin in which he speaks to villagers from a tree and makes them think he is a voice from above.

Another good character is Prince Edward, who spends half the story locked in a dungeon before being saved by Ash. The chapters in which he languishes in his cell came across well and he is a sympathetic character.

Overall, Soule writes beautiful prose. Sometimes her wording is elegant and other times it is playfully creative. An example: "The sun had not fully risen, but the sky was like a punk teenager on a redecorating kick." The fantasy world of Fallenwood is packed with marvelous places and creatures, reminiscent of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Illeydra is a dragon statue that comes to life twice a day to listen to people's worries and offer guidance. In the dream world of the Pan Experiential, Ash is confronted by Discordia who helps Ash decide to accept her fate, whatever it may be. Plus there is a giant magic crystal, a black unicorn, and dragons. Fallenwood is a heartfelt psychological wonderland inspired by those difficult years when a young adult must pick a path and travel it with purpose.

Fallenwood by Leslie Soule is newly published by Decadent Publishing. Visit Leslie Soule's website to find out how to get it.