24 December 2012

Review: Don't Judge a Book by... by Kate Policani

After discovering a strange book (imaginatively called 'The Book') in her local library, Seattle high school graduate Colleen Underhill starts seeing visions. Her first thought is that she has gone insane. She soon finds out that she is 'broadcasting' and gets into trouble when she won't say a simple spell to prevent this, because taking part in magic and witchcraft is against her Christian faith.

Colleen is immediately whisked away to Seattle Pacific Regional University (‘sproo’ to the students), where she learns that Tximar energy flows through everyone, like the concept of Chi energy, but is like the old Magic eye books in that it can't be seen by everyone. Reading The Book has unleashed this previously-unknown power in her (unfortunately, The Book is never mentioned after the beginning, which seemed a bit strange in hindsight). It is working in the spirit realm, but even the professors are unsure what spirits—which makes Colleen even more reluctant to use spells.

What follows is Colleen's first-person account of her first months at Sproo, learning about Teimnydduus and Txenar. adjusting to the new rules, joining the Sproo version of a sorority, getting her first boyfriend, singing in the music show and working out how to deal with unexpected financial issues.

It's well-written with believable characters, a well-thought-through back story, an interesting plot and some very good imagery (e.g. “her shoes resembled government building architecture”). It’s a quick and enjoyable read, incorporating elements of the worlds of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but there were some problems.

As in other fantasy books, the author has invented a range of words to describe concepts outside our everyday reality. But these aren't words like 'muggle' or 'hobbit' that are easily written and pronounced in English. These words look like a combination of Welsh and Anglicised Greek, words like ‘Skupdyn’ and ‘tiemnydduus’. I have no idea how to even begin pronouncing that. Is the 'dd' a 'th' sound, as it is in Welsh, or a 'dd' as it is in English words like 'hidden'? (At one point, Colleen comments that many of the words were ‘spit-rich’, indicating to me that the language is definitely Welsh.)

The author does at least acknowledge this problem, saying of The Book that “The author spelled all the terminology in the book so outrageously. It felt like the author wanted to mess with his readers by making up names for things that were impossible to pronounce.” There was a glossary at the beginning, but this is easier to access in a paper book than an ebook. The story got very interesting very quickly, and trying to work out which T-word was what was confusing and just slowed the story down.

Did Don't Judge a Book By Its Magic work as a Christian novel? Yes, and no. While there was nothing anti-Christian, it changed tack part-way through, moving away from the spiritual aspect of The Convergence into a teenage dating and relationship focus. There was insufficient discussion around whether the spirits or forces being used for magic were good or not, and I think this needed to be made clearer.

And then Don't Judge a Book By Its Magicjust ended. It wasn't even a cliffhanger (although it left a fair few things unresolved), but it wasn't a clear ending either. I don't mind a series, but I like each book to contain a complete story arc, and to finish at a natural place. This didn’t. Enjoyable while it lasted, but there was something missing.

Thanks to Kate Policani for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kate Policani at her website.

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