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Monday, April 16, 2007

"Worldweavers" by Alma Alexander

Official Alma Alexander Website

When it comes to reading fantasy, I enjoy all types from your standard sword & sorcery epics to the darker, grittier variety as well as those aimed toward younger readers or YA (young adult) as the sub-genre has been coined. Obviously, when talking about YA, the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling come to mind as does The Chronicles of Narnia, but I’ve enjoyed a number of other noteworthy works including His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, the Abhorsen books by Garth Nix and the Bartimaeus series by Jonathan Stroud. “Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage” is my latest YA venture, written by Alma Alexander (pen name) who has a very interesting background – born in Yugoslavia, raised throughout Africa, educated in the UK/South Africa, lived/worked in New Zealand, etc. – and is the author of the “Changer of Days” fantasy duology, “The Secrets Of Jin-Shei” and “The Embers of Heaven”.

To start with, let’s get any Harry Potter comparisons out of the way, since those are unavoidable with a book of this nature, and more so, because the author reveals in an interview that her idea for “Worldweavers” somewhat stems from the Harry Potter books. Before we get into that, let’s look at the similarities between the two, which include the setting, a present-day Earth where magic is real, the only difference being that in “Worldweavers” there aren’t any Muggles (non-magical humans) since everyone is born with magic. On top of that you have a school and a teenage protagonist, among other minor resemblances. Really though, apart from a few obvious likenesses, “Worldweavers” and the Harry Potter books are worlds apart.

First off, the concept for “Worldweavers” was conceived out of a comment that Ms. Alexander heard at a World Fantasy Convention about “the way Harry Potter books treated girls.” In short, Alma Alexander wanted to remedy that and thus came up with Galathea “Thea” Georgiana Winthrop, the main character of “Worldweavers”. Thea, like Harry Potter, is surrounded by fame and expectation, though for her, she was born with it, being a Double Seventh – the seventh child of two seventh child parents. Unfortunately for Thea, she’s the exact opposite of a Double Seventh, exhibiting basically no magical talents whatsoever and is looking at a life of constant disappointment. Before all hope is given up on her, Thea’s parents make one last attempt to awaken her powers, and its here that Thea’s adventures truly begin. From this point, expect anything and everything including time-travel, multiple worlds, shape-changers, gods/goddesses, and a quest to save humankind, among other things.

Aside from a cover that doesn’t grab my attention, there’s a lot to like in “Worldweavers”. Ms. Alexander’s writing for the most part, is rich and poised. The story, while containing familiar elements, has enough unique ingredients to keep the book fresh and engaging. Specifically, I’m talking about the Native American folklore/mythology that is utilized throughout “Worldweavers”, the different polities of fantasy-influenced races (Alphiri, Faele, Dwarrowim) that we get a glimpse of, the otherworldly evil known as the Nothing, spiritual exploration, and of course the Academy or “Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent”, which is for people who CAN’T do magic, and where a new form of enchantment is born through modern technology. As far as characters, Thea as the heroine is charming enough that you care about what happens to her and the author does a good job of developing her as the story unfolds. I will say though, that ironically the book suffers somewhat from the same problem that the Harry Potter series is accused of…a skewed gender view. In the case of “Worldweavers” it’s the males who seem to get the short end of the stick, as the female characters dominate with the exception of Thea’s mentor Cheveyo. Additionally, I’ll say the secondary characters as a whole are mere skeletons in the development department, but do enough to support Thea and her story.

While I feel that “Worldweavers” lacks the universal appeal of the Harry Potter books or the imaginative intelligence His Dark Materials offered, the YA novel does, despite the inevitable comparisons, possess enough individual traits to stand apart from its competition. So, in the end, not only did I enjoy “Worldweavers” enough to want to see what happens in future volumes of the trilogy, but I would recommend it to my son, friends and anyone who likes to read fantasy…

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