3 out of 4 stars
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I don’t often come across fantasy novels with a protagonist who is Native American. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across one before Gil Johnstone’s Rise of Willow. For me, it’s rather unique in that way, and it makes me want to read more novels like this.
The story of Thomas and Cora Willow, the book follows their journey, from birth to marriage and beyond, in a world that has lost much in terms of social and technological advances. We learn of their unique circumstances as children, one a physical prodigy, the other a mathematical genius, as well as their relationships with their grandmothers. When they finally meet and marry, the book takes a turn into chronicling their adventures together as a couple, all embedded within a sort of quantum universe framework.
I liked a lot of this book, if not all of it. In fact, if it weren’t for the numerous errors, I would give it a full rating. As it stands right now, however? I can only give it 3 out of 4 stars. It definitely deserves this rating, not in the least because of the characters and how they were written.
Johnstone has a gift for making his characters relatable, even when they’re larger than life (literally). The men of the Willow family are unnaturally strong and muscular, while the women are all incredibly beautiful. Yet, this is offset by how quirky the characters are. Thomas, for example, seems to always find himself in violent situations, even with deer and bears, while Cora, for all her genius, sometimes puts her foot in her mouth.
In addition to this, the framing device of Henry Timberlake chronicling the Willow family's adventures is absolutely fitting. Henry goes to the Willows to create a family history, and it is through him that we get Cora and Thomas’s story. He plays the role of readers’ proxy and it works, giving us a clear, unbiased view into the Willows’ family history.
Even the science involved in this novel, which I’d classify as post-apocalyptic for the state of the world after an intergalactic collision, is easy to understand, insofar as quantum mechanics can be understood. While Johnstone uses quite a bit of scientific terms, he doesn’t overload the reader with information. Instead, he introduces various concepts and then breaks them down into layman’s terms so that readers can understand where he’s coming from. It doesn’t even feel like being talked down to, as he isn’t didactic about it either.
However, as mentioned before, the book’s errors play quite a role in taking away that final point in my rating. While they’re scattered enough not to be a bother, I noticed many errors that could easily be avoided. The book needs, probably, one more pass by an editor before it can be perfect.
Rise of Willow is an interesting book. The Native American protagonist presents an opportunity to incorporate Native traditions into a genre that often does not include them, and Johnstone does an excellent job with both his characters and the science involved. Science fiction enthusiasts are sure to find something to love about it.
Happy reading, everyone!
Rise of Willow
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