Book One of this young adult fantasy introduces its tale with a map showing an island off the shore of a land mass which includes such intriguing images as a castle at Sea Dragon's Point and a mountain range called Funeral Mountains. This provides a visual sense of the landscape and adds an element of intrigue right from the start. Enhancing the sense of adventure is a prologue that features a goddess, her brother Death, and her sister Fate, who together weave a new world.
But this sense of magic and intrigue received an immediate, satisfying twist when protagonist Ri awakens to a dilemma which also forges a solid sense of place in just a few sentences: "No, no, no! How could I have slept so soundly while Samuel wandered out of our home? I swung my cottage’s door open and bolted outside. The morning sun peeked over the mountains and cast soft light onto my cliff-top village."
Ri's adoptive father Samuel is ill. He suffers from incurable hallucinations, and she has to watch his every move while solidly rejecting the notion that he can't be healed. But she's stymied in her goal of helping him until she meets two strangers in the forest who have their own agendas, and faces a choice that could either cure Samuel or imprison her in another realm.
The Waterfall Traveler combines an epic quest with a caring girl's coming of age and offers much to young adult fantasy readers. Perhaps its greatest strength lies in its ability to craft a tale with very realistic goals and concerns as Ri faces dangerous plots and counters many plans with her own: "Was he seriously rambling about a backup plan in case a guard captured—or killed—him? Every part of me was shaking. “No.” I shoved him and the amulet away."
It's always pleasing to see determination, grit, and personal struggle cementing an action-packed story, and The Waterfall Traveler provides these elements and more, never neglecting personal psychology in favor of adventure. Ri is continually challenged and meets these dangers head-on; but always with very real fears behind her bravado, and this is just one element that lends authenticity to the action: "My hands trembled, grasping my dagger—a pitiful weapon against such a monstrous beast. It was mere luck that I had even stabbed the creature in the first place. I was going to die. I was never going to see Samuel, Bryce, or home again. If only I had a powerful blade like Baxter’s and the strength to use it. But I didn’t, and I was alone. “Pull yourself together,” I told myself. “There’s a way out of this. Think.”
As her relationships and choices drive the story, young adult (and many an adult) readers will find Ri's determination and rationales powerful driving forces to the story line ("He clomped into the stream and I was forced to follow. “Is Bryce out here too?” “Of course not! He’s too ill.” I dug my heels into the soft sand at the water’s bottom. “Stop treating me like a child!” He had reverted into the cold officer who had humiliated me the night we met. How dare he think this type of behavior was appropriate? “Dammit, Baxter,” I yelled, squirming. “Let go.”) which lends it a flavor that makes it thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down.
Can't wait for Book Two!
- D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review