3 out of 4 stars
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An arrogant blond man will stop at nothing to make his power absolute. He schemes about how to subdue those who cannot resist him and eliminate those with the strength to fight him. Where could this book be set? Some of the action in the young-adult fantasy trilogy Braknovia Forest by J. T. McEwan takes place in our world, but most is in the realm of Braknovia. I'm glad I could review all three parts together as the individual books - The Three, The Two Keys and Darkland Secrets - would not stand well alone.
Seventeen-year-old James Brendal, his older brother Hayden and his younger sister Isabella are being raised by foster parents after their father was murdered in an incident that rendered their mother catatonic. James does not care for everyday school life, preferring to lose himself in fantasy books. He encourages Isabella when she shows him her own stories. When the three youngsters find themselves using supernatural powers against attackers in an alley, a cloaked man named Kern whisks them off to a forest. This covers a large swath of Braknovia, where they have been brought to restore balance by tackling Malakite, the blond tyrant who annihilated their parents. Their writing abilities will gain a new significance. Will James learn to manage his power in time? Hayden has always been different from his siblings. Could his anger and vengefulness compromise the destiny of The Three, as they are described in a prophecy?
Although prophecy is important to this story, this does not make it predictable. Malakite possesses a Book of Prophecies that rewrites itself as events take new turns. This innovative idea added an element of fun. McEwan displayed formidable imagination in creating the realm of Braknovia. The characters' adventures take them to infested marshes and polluted lakes as well as mountain villages bright with flower gardens. The protagonists encounter many creatures, some friendly, others vicious. But along with the pragmatic prophecies, that can change.
The changes in the course of events relate to a leading theme of the story, which is the power of choices to alter outcomes. This could inspire a young-adult audience. There is one particular plot twist which, although not at all inappropriate for young people, might be better appreciated by adults. I cannot say anything specific because that would constitute a spoiler. The twist involves a paradox whose explanation is left vague, although that's permissible under poetic licence.
In that connection, I could suspend disbelief about how everyone in Braknovia spoke English, even when a character who was raised by a wolf seemed to be able to read. After all, this is a magical world where the characters' special powers form a thrilling part of the narrative. However, in this mediaeval-style setting without telephones or televisions, the word "teleport" is jarring. Another word would work better to describe the power of instant travel, a theme that was also affected by some inconsistencies.
At times, the way the characters whizzed from place to place became dizzying. This could perhaps be cut somewhat, especially as the books were a little long for the young-adult genre. The pacing was generally good, although the story suffered from a slow start with regard to the role of the female characters. At first, all we saw was matronly women cooking and knitting or girls squealing and giggling. Powerful females emerged in time, and Isabella's courage and resourceful confidence would make her an outstanding role model.
The strong women represent an excellent aspect of a story that was generally enjoyable. It would be great to see a more polished version, not least because the trilogy does not seem to have been professionally edited. There were many spelling and grammatical errors throughout. Although these were distracting at times, this was an immersive, escapist read overall. As this work has many strengths and a few areas for improvement, I rate it three out of four stars. It can be appreciated on different levels by young adults or older fantasy fans. It satisfies as an epic journey and coming-of-age tale. Readers may also ponder the deeper messages about the best ways to combat power-crazed blond men.
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