2 out of 4 stars
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Sixteen-year-old Evelyn Anderson chafes against the monotony of her life. Every day, she drives her beat-up van to school and back in a well-worn, rutted pattern that rarely changes. Bewildered by the motivations and interests of other teenagers, her social life leaves much to be desired. Evelyn's passions are fitness and martial arts, so her after-school self-defense class is the highlight of her otherwise dull day. She longs for adventure, for the extraordinary. At least there's an upside to having a predictable existence: No unwanted surprises, right? Wrong. Evelyn's hopes for the freedom of summer vacation are dashed when she arrives home on the last day of the school year to find out that her father has arranged her a summer job at a local boating business owned by a family friend. Evelyn dutifully reports for work the following day, spending the first morning learning her new job and daydreaming of her first purchase with her earnings: A vehicle that is rust-free. She soon finds herself out on the ocean for the first time, thrilled as her boss shows her how to steer the boat and gives her the wheel. Having discovered her latent love for the ocean, Evelyn starts to look forward to coming into work every day. But the sea is unpredictable, and a sudden, freak storm throws her overboard.
She awakens in the forest, having been inexplicably transported to the land of Zertone, in an entirely different world populated by humans and mysterious, elemental animals. She befriends Sam, a teenage native of Zertone who has never heard of Earth, after helping him defeat dangerous, bear-like creatures that were attacking him. Sam, a soldier and gifted swordsman, is a member of an underground resistance force bent on defeating the traitorous King Zerka, whose army has taken to needlessly murdering innocent civilians. Sam's first quest is to locate and subdue "the demon," the last of the feared Ferjians, a race of grey-skinned, purple-eyed humans with wondrous powers that have been in hiding for over a century. Legend holds that the evil Ferjians' magical gifts were bestowed on them by the dragons, and they use their abilities to destroy. Sam intends to capture the Ferjian before the king can. Evelyn joins his cause, and together they find what they're looking for ... And far more than they ever imagined.
Zertone, by Amanda K. Rivers, is a young-adult fantasy novel that explores themes such as friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice in an interesting spin on the classic good-versus-evil framework. My favorite positives to this book are the apparently element-based creatures that our heroes encounter, the varied landscapes and climates (from blustery mountainside to lush jungle) that they cross in their journey, and the overarching idea that one shouldn't judge a person by appearance or reputation. It is clean, never too graphic, the writing style is straight-forward without being too simplistic, and despite the fact that the people of Zertone have a pre-electricity culture, they speak modern English. This, to me, is a pro for the prospective young-adult readers, but also a con due to the questions it raises that ultimately hurt the believability of the story.
Which brings me to the negatives. Zertone spawns more questions than it answers and much is left unexplored that I was eager to learn more about. Elaborating on this problem is probably best done through a sample of the questions I asked myself while reading it. Why do the people of Zertone speak modern English (including slang such as "Duh")? How exactly did Evelyn end up there in the first place? Why would Sam, on a dangerous mission for an "entirely secret" army whose goal is to subvert the "evil tyrant," just divulge his identity, affiliation, and his quest to Evelyn right after meeting her? Wouldn't he be more suspicious of strangers or protective of information he admits is potentially fatal? Why, after a month of searching for Evelyn, would the police have simply left her van parked where it was on the day of her disappearance? Most notably, why didn't the antagonist kill them all when he had the chance, eliminating the threat, rather than jailing them? This is not a comprehensive list of the nagging questions that are never addressed in this book. To list more would be to include spoilers.
Further undermining the realism is the fact that, in my opinion, many events are just too convenient to be believable. In general, no one Evelyn and Sam encounter, other than blatant enemies, puts up much resistance before simply handing over the information or supplies that they need. When they stop at the home of Sam's friend, Byron, to ask if they can borrow his boat, Byron barely questions the fact that Sam is carrying an unconscious, dreaded Ferjian before giving them the boat outright, saying he never uses it. When Sam is seriously injured on the battlefield, Evelyn runs to the nearest village for help and the first door she knocks on happens to be the home of the local medic. Also, without giving too much away, let's just say that Vern, the Ferjian, seems to spontaneously develop new powers just as they become necessary.
While not completely undescriptive, Zertone frequently lacks details, which limited my ability to be absorbed in the story. For example, the reader is given little to no backstory for any of the characters, which was especially disappointing because I would assume that the many miles of walking and almost a month of imprisonment together would allow for a lot of conversational exposition and bonding. Unfortunately, our heroes experience all this out of earshot of the reader. Sometimes the lack of details regarding the characters' movements and immediate surroundings created issues with continuity, which was confusing. Most of the action, such as the battle scenes, felt rushed. All of this, when added to the fact that there were enough punctuation errors and spelling typos to cost the book a star, really hurts the execution of what I thought was a great, although not entirely new, premise. As a result, I am giving Zertone 2 out of 4 stars, and I would suggest it to young-adult fantasy lovers looking for a light read.
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