Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This novel is written for the adolescent market. It includes all the relevant elements: teenage heroine, school, adults who can be trusted and those that can’t. The heroine, Charlotte Stone is a red-haired thirteen year old who suddenly finds herself alone in the world, being sent to live with an eccentric great aunt following the disappearance of her archaeologist parents in a plane crash in the Sahara at around the same time her twin sister, Edessa goes into a semi-permanent coma from some unspecified cause. This takes us up to page ten.
There is a great deal of activity in this story, much of it due to the appearance of some new character only a few pages after the last one. Rather than pleasure the reader, this characteristic confuses and unsettles. This might be due to this novel being the first in a projected series requiring introductions for contextual reasons, or it might be due to some brutal editing to make the novel fit a certain size. Consequently this reviewer found himself wishing for an index to advise him who was who and if they had appeared in the plot before.
Some of these characters are quite endearing such as Boris, a faerie who wears a Hovis bread-bag secured with shoelaces, who having no flower of his own considers himself a victim of circumstances but who manages to get lost in the woods. A dark past is hinted for Boris but not explained.
There is a gentle humour at work in this book which has conceived of a faerie bureaucracy in which dandelion clocks are watched and unintended outcomes derived from simple errors. Then there are the individuals we can all recognise from our own experiences.
The plot revolves around a Triverse as opposed to the Universe. The three elements of the Triverse are Syluria, a distant planet with two moons, a vast forest, tree-weaving people with green skin, the concept of the Dreamtime and a Nymet tree. Then there is the Fey Nation, a chaotic faerie-land of competing spirits which justifies a novel all on its own, redeemed only by Luned, an Undine who works as a fairy-lore case-worker. Lastly there is Albion which is modern Britain living under the distant rule of the town-hall where the Brackenheath Oak on its own Nymet hill is old and distinctly unwell. These places are all connected by the Wyrd Web and the great tree which is manifested on Earth as the Brackenheath Oak.
Then this Oak gets struck by lightning and the Morrigan, who is not adequately explained insists that Charlotte has to sort this all out. In the end she and Tarsel, a tree-weaver from Syluria travel to meet the disinterested Vorla where Charlotte induces a positive response from their queen-mother, Rani Johari which eventually saves the day.
There is too much in the plot which occasionally slips out of control due to insufficient explanation. It would have been so much better if it was more austere and clearer in its intention. The purpose of a novel is to entertain the reader; not give them homework. A good novel leads the reader with a sense of engagement that produces enjoyment and a consequent perception of value. What is more the entire purpose of a series, a construct much beloved of fantasy writers, is to encourage the reader to return and enjoy some more. My suggestion to Tasha O’Neill is that she stands back a bit and seeks to be less intense. There is some truth in the minimalist concept that less is more. Tasha is obviously enjoying her writing, constructing and telling the tale but she has to take the reader with her.