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BOOK REVIEW: The Grimoire: Lichgates / Author S.M. Boyce

Published in Daily Times / 7 July 2012

Under the Title; The Realm Next Door
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Many thanks to S.M. Boyce for the review copy.

S M Boyce’s debut novel calls upon captivating magical backdrops to reach for those glimmering shards of whimsy, lying forgotten in the dark recesses of imagination. Seven years in the making The Grimoire: Lichgates is a heady brew that cheerfully vaults into the fantasy genre.

20-year-old Kara Magari’s hike comes to a dramatic close when she stumbles upon Ourea, the realm next door where conniving rulers, diabolical shape-shifters, conflicted humanoids and mysterious muses lurk in the shadows, and dragon sightings do not trigger alarm bells. Boyce’s sweeping epic fantasy adventure is carried on the wings of its supernatural soul suffused with mystical sensibilities. The Grimoire — a book of wisdom at the centre of this transformative experience — dictates (to an extent), the destiny of the ‘Chosen One’, and offers useful insight about Kara’s shiny new environs. Though Grimoires are generally ‘text books of sorcery & magic’, here they come with some bonus features; this one takes questions, like Google, but with an agenda.

The more beguiling aspects of Kara’s new discovery are offset by an inherent cruelty of her surroundings. Draped in sumptuous colours and exotic shades, the story is fuelled by feverish energy that stops every now and then to cradle the fragility of hope, of death and loss, of tyranny and oppression, of freedom and choice, quietly arranging casual run-ins with philosophical debates triggered by Ourea’s messy geopolitics. While the narrative gleefully tests the edges of these treacherous waters, the limelight remains on its characters evolution, their fractured relationships, a carry-bag of personalised demons and individual destinies.

Ourea, far from being a refuge, with its unique flora and fauna and other ‘creatures of interest’ brings its own set of challenges. Readers will be thrown headlong with the heroine through an inoffensive looking lichgate into a churning pool of court intrigues, intense demons, warring factions, and millennia old divides. The experience leaves both a little winded. The single thread that takes its heroine away from home and her troubled past and ties her to Ourea devolves into a multi-arc fantasy where clashing ideologies and vicious power games abound and a Vagabond, who has command over the Grimoire has not been seen in a thousand years.

The outlines are a bit blurry in the beginning. The lavish scale of the adventure brings with it a soaring sense of anticipation but the wait to build proper rapport with the lead can slow the momentum. Lichgates is a YA (young adult) novel infused with a robust narrative arc and a rich core that can be mined in further books. That said, the macabre triad of politics, fantasy and romance at times seems to be a little precariously perched on a pillar of neat resolutions.

Misfits will accompany Kara with funny sounding names weighed down by a difficult past, on a parallel march to self-discovery. She will be introduced to unsettling customs that put an interesting spin on the ‘controlling parents’ scenario. There are moments of levity during this high-octane ride through Ourea’s scattered kingdoms that at times remind one of an intergalactic symposium ala ‘the final frontier’.

Though this is not a satire per se, Ourea’s violent undertones and political underpinnings that tether this paranormal fantasy to the real world form a subtle frame of reference. One of its ‘kingdoms’ does not take kindly to women in positions of power. That females are meant to embody ‘art, beauty and spirituality of their nation’ would make an independent minded girl in Kara’s position choke, with good reason. There is much to admire about Kara, but for all her fiery nature and famed sarcasm, her silent monologue and snappy comebacks sometimes fall short of expectations and could perhaps do with a dose of extra ‘snappy’.

The conflict at the heart of the tale makes room for plenty of action sequences, and magical tricks, and flying beasts. Yet the story tries to stay inside its designated territory (Young Adult) despite random references to violence. The book wends its way through avenues of light and shadow, leaving an enchanted trail of expectation in its wake. What lies beyond lichgate number one is simply the tip of the magical iceberg. The final passages end on closure (of sorts) and a cliffhanger (of sorts). Book one promises to deliver the next round of ‘shock and awe’ moments as it sets the stage for a looming showdown. The Grimoire: Lichgates is part of a trilogy brimming with potential. The good news is that the legions of fans do not have to wait long for book two. Treason will be out by Fall 2012.

Publisher: CreateSpace (March, 2012)

Pages: 408

Category: YA Lit

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