This is the first book in a trilogy, 'Neath Ancient Ruins Lie, written by my good friend Mabel! I read an earlier draft 3 years ago, and really enjoyed reading her polished, published version this week. Her imagination is admirable and she has created an intriguing, fun story.
Young Adult Fantasy is not my favorite genre, but a lot of people close to me love it, so I end up reading a few here and there. Mabel's book takes place in Scotland, 1932, but the story begins (and ends?) in a parallel world that is integral to the story. Awakenings has castles, mermaids, fairies, ghosts, selkies and kelpies. Not sure what a couple of those are? Well, you'll find out!
The first chapter takes place in Ormiscaig, the parallel world, and the second at the castle in Scotland. Both of these chapters introduce and describe characters and setting. For me this can be a little slow, and it really took me until the fourth chapter to get into "don't want to put it down" mode. So read on if the first couple of chapters seem a bit detailed. The good news that in true YA style, the chapters aren't very long.
Arran is a young servant girl about to turn 14. She is at first sweet and kind, but as the story progresses you discover (as she discovers) that she is also smart and brave. The excitement in the story picks up as a stranger appears in the castle's dungeon, and begins to prove true the legends and folklore that have surrounded the castle. I liked how the staff and the laird (lord) come together to solve the mysteries and help this stranded stranger.
One of Mabel's talents is in description. She creates vivid pictures of her characters and their surroundings. For example,
"The room was plush and beautiful; rich red tapestry curtains hung from the windows, and several tartan rugs covering the floor added warmth to the room. On the table, lay 24 large pewter plates, each with a pewter goblet by its side, with perfect spacing between."
"The gentle gliding of the gull's wings and the sound of the water on the shore lulled her into a soft, gentle slumber."
"Above the glen, an eagle was stretching its long elegant wings out into the blue sky above soaring high above the tree tops."
The writing is also humorous at times. A young relative of the Laird comes to live in the castle (don't castles always need a sweet young ward living in one of the towers?) He is concerned that he might not have anything to talk to her about. When they sit down to their first meal together, Isla begins talking and doesn't stop. Her rambling, excited sentences remind me of several children I know.
"One fairy in particular even knew my name. Her name is Tona, by the way, and she thinks I am a princess. She has beautiful long wavy hair the color of the wheat fields and..."
The fairies are another part of the story I really liked. When they talk or sing, those who believe in them are instantly comforted. They are soothed and filled with peace. I think this is symbolic of the pureness and goodness that the characters are searching for, but also reminded me of the power of mothers. Kind of how newborns can be comforted by the sound of their mother's voice. And how your mother's care and concern can wipe away your worries. It makes me hope my children feel that way about me!
Toward the end of the book, Arran must make a difficult decision. As she is pondering her choices, Elgol says to her,
"You have great potential, Arran. There is much about yourself that you have not discovered yet, but it is nothing that you need to fear."
I think this is going to be important in the next two volumes. It reminded me a bit of what her former teacher tells Penelope in book two of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. I always like books in which young protagonists rise to their potential, and become the amazing people that the adults around them know they can be.
I also enjoyed Mabel's use of Scottish landmarks in her story. When they venture to Loch Ness, it reminds me a bit of Peter and the Starcatchers series which includes an important use of Stonehenge. I like when fantasy novels tie into mythology and locations that really exist.
Don't you love the cover artwork? I think it sets the stage perfectly for the novel.
I think this is a fun story that you and your children will enjoy. And probably your parents and aunts and neighbors.
You can purchase it on Amazon , only 99cents for the Kindle Edition or for your Nook. You can also read the first chapter online, but I'm not sure that it alone will hook you.
OR....Enter my giveaway that will be posted shortly, and win your own copy hot off the presses. (You might even get it in time for Christmas)