The Farwalker’s Quest by Joni Sensel is the second magic-free Young Adult fantasy I’ve read lately. (I wonder if this is a trend or a new sub-genre.) This is not to say that there are no supernatural elements in The Farwalker’s Quest. There are, but they are kept very close to reality, more like extra sensory powers than outright magic.
The world of The Farwalker’s Quest is a post apocalyptic Australia. Civilization ended long before the start of the novel, when a disease that made everyone blind swept the earth. Those who managed to survive had to give up the modern technology they were used to, eventually returning to a very simple village life centered around farming. After several generations, people regained their sight, but by this time almost all record of the past along with its technology was lost.
For as long as anyone can remember there have been twelve types of work open to villagers. Ariel the daughter of the village healer is clearly adept at identifying medicinal herbs and is learning how to use them. Her best friend Zeke is the son of a tree singer, a man who can communicate with the trees, one in particular, which warn him of impending dangers and offer general advice. The trees have some ability to predict the future, but they are not able to alter it. Zeke wants to continue in his father’s footsteps as Ariel wants to continue in her mother’s. One day they find a telling dart, a small machine that can fly 100’s of miles until it finds the one person its message is meant for. They do not know which of them the dart was meant for nor who it was from and they do not entirely understand its message. They decide to keep it a secret.
When the fourteen-year-old children, Zeke and Ariel among them, are being tested to determine which of the twelve jobs they shall have, Eldred and Scrawl, two finders, arrive at the village. Finders are mysterious figures; they are the only people who still travel from town to town, looking for and finding whatever has been lost in exchange for food and lodging as well as other services and goods. They are after the telling dart, which they say has led them to Ariel. They offer to take Ariel, who has failed her test to become a healer, to join them in a fairly large city where she will become a farwalker.
When Ariel’s mother refuses to let her go with the finders, they kidnap her, kill her mother and burn down Zeke’s trees to prevent them from revealing where they have gone. Zeke sets out to rescue Ariel though no tree will talk to him after what has happened. Twelve telling darts have been sent out into the world, each given the task of finding the best of each of the twelve jobs. The finders, it turns out, are following the darts, intent on killing each person they find.
The Farwalker’s Quest is the first in what looks to be a very entertaining series. The world Ms. Sensel has created is an intriguing one. While The Farwalker’s Quest ends with a clear resolution, there are still enough unanswered questions to fill a second and third volume. I was surprised, however by the level of violence in the story. Most of it takes place off stage, so to speak, but it seemed fairly heavy to me. I think it took me by surprise because the cover art looks very innocent, like what you’d find on a book aimed at 11-year-olds. In spite of this I loaned the book to one of my 7th grade students. She did not notice the violence, had high praise for the book and is anxiously awaiting the sequels.
I have not noticed many children reading this series since I first ran this review on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2009. Reading this review some five years later I am struck by two things. First, by just how much plot summary there is. Did I do that all the time back then? I try to avoid plot summary as much as possible these days. In fact, I often wonder if I’m leaving my readers confused about the book I’m reviewing. But I don’t like plot summary so I tend to skip it when writing, and when reading, as much as I can. The other stuff is what interests me. I’m also struck by how derivitive the book sounds. It seems like certain things have become very tired tropes these days, namely the choosing scene when all the children of a certain age are sorted into career groups based on inherant skills. It’s so Hogwarts sorting hat, The Giver, Divergent, etc. etc. When I was in high school we had a test called the ASVAB (Armed services vocational appitude test, I think) which was supposed to tell you what sort of career you were suited for. I don’t remember what mine said but it was probably not middle school English teacher. In college a physic once told me that it would be a miracle if I completed a degree in English (I have two and a teaching credential) because I was better suited for the visual arts. Maybe the sorting hat would have had better luck determining my future.