There is a boy who is different from other boys. He has special powers. He can do strange things just by thinking about them. He is different, has never fit in; he’s an orphan, mistreated and unwanted. He has a strange mark on him. Sound familiar? It’s not what you think, but it is the start of a ripping good fantasy for young readers.
Farworld: Water Keep, the first in a series of what will become five books, begins with the story of Marcus, a wheelchair bound orphan bullied by his schoolmates, who can conveniently make himself unseen and who dreams of an imaginary land called Farworld. One day a man shows up to inform Marcus that he’s taking him to his long lost parents, an orphan’s dream. But something is unsettling to Marcus….
In the meantime, we switch to another world where an orphan girl, Kyja, is attempting to perform magic. It seems everyone in Kyja’s world can perform magic, but not Kyja. This has left her a shunned outcast too. Even though Master Therapass, a wizened wizard, believes she has magic inside of her, Kyja is downtrodden. Kyja’s first magical power will be saving Marcus from the man, Bonesplitter, and the adventure will begin…
Marcus and Kyja are not only special, they are the great hope for saving both Farworld and Earth from sinister forces bent on destroying them. Filled with suspense, action and all the best elements of a great fantasy, Farworld: Water Keep is a wonderful addition to our fantasy shelves.
Author J. Scott Savage does many, many things right with his tale. He invents a plethora of creatures to spark the imagination, including the Elementals which will make-up a large portion of the five story’s thematic focus as the children will have to get them to work together in order to save their worlds. The first group of Elementals we meet, the Fontasians, control water and are as otherworldly as one can imagine.
The tale opens with a surprise and continues at a quickened pace, divided into manageable chapters and sections for young readers. Critics might argue that the pace becomes overly fast, but when set within the realm of children’s literature, it’s important to remember that faster-paced, shorter-chapter novels assist young readers. And while the plot does evolve at a break-neck speed through mostly action, the exceptional foreshadowing further propels the plot. The tale also jumps smoothly and believably between worlds. Very rarely, if ever, do we get more than one world within a chapter. This provides for excellent breaking points.
Characterization is handled well. Marcus’s disability is thoughtful and matter-of-fact. Savage isn’t overly cautious with having his protagonist disabled, meeting the challenge head-on and credibly. I would like to see some further character investment, but think this will happen as the story progresses through the four remaining books, as the first novel in a fantasy series almost always spends large chunks of effort on character and setting introduction.
My only qualm is with the good old suspension of disbelief factor that plagues fantasy. I kept worrying about how the world jumping would affect the children. At times, it became too easy and convenient. Marcus’s half-there, half-here sickness was never fully resolved. I’m hoping this silly little doubt will be explained in further novels, as I’ll be reading them all.
Perhaps the thing this reviewer liked best about Savage’s style was his calling out of the Harry Potter comparisons. When Marcus meets Kyja and her world, he asks her if she can, “fly on brooms and send letters with owls like Harry Potter?” Her response? “A hairy what?” This puts the comparisons comically to rest.
Recommended for grade 4 and up, as a read a-loud for younger elementary students, for students with disabilities, and lovers of high fantasy.
Stayed tuned for an interview & giveaway with Mr. Savage (great name for a fantasy author by the way) coming sometime soon! In the meantime check out Mr. Savage's blog here.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti