24 June 2013

Review: Penumbra by Samantha Bennett

Norla is a slave, living in a hovel and carrying rocks under the eye of violent overseers on King’s Mountain. She is chosen to be the mistress of a handsome young lord, Count Pallo Belany, but will only consent if he will promise to free her mother. This is not something Pallo can promise: only King Vaskel can free slaves. Vaskel consents, on the condition that the pair completes a quest: they must locate the infamous criminal Penumbra, and bring back the book he stole. It seems like an impossible quest, but if they fail, Norla will belong to the cruel king. The quest takes them across half the kingdom, puts them in almost-constant peril, and reunites Norla with a childhood friend. And when they find Penumbra, things are not all they seem.

The two halves of this novel were quite different, and I’m not sure if that was a weakness or a strength. The first half introduced the culture (which was caste-based and somewhat complex) and the characters. It managed that well, without delving into generations of irrelevant backstory or culture; something that can be difficult to achieve in fantasy, especially for first-time authors.

The second half turned more allegorical, and at times it seemed as though the plot was being forced along by the need to stay true to the underlying Christian theme. Note that the story wasn’t overtly Christian: it was more similar to the Narnia stories, in that you could see the Christian themes if you were looking for them. I enjoyed spotting the allegory in the second half, but it might seem contrived to a young adult reader just looking for a good fantasy novel.

Overall, this was a good story, well-told. Recommended for fans of Christian allegory and young adult fantasy. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Samantha Bennett at her website.

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