Twelve-year-old Jadiel is forced by her evil stepmother to fetch the rejuvenating leaves from the Eternal Tree by next full moon or her father will be killed. On her journey, she encounters Callen, her uncle’s apprentice, a young man looking for a mysterious bridge. Together they chase after confusing clues, which lead them into danger and ultimately the treacherous Land of Darkness. In the end, they find more than they are looking for. The Land of Darkness is a fairy tale rich in biblical allegory and points to the bridge that links the mortal with the immortal life—one that can be seen only with eyes of faith.
Echoing the themes of one of my favorite Narnia books, “The Silver Chair,” CS Lakin’s deftly written book,The Land of Darkness, yet again unfailingly impresses me with its colorful language and subtle, yet effective allegorical language. In terms of plot, this story may ostensibly read like your average fairy tale, except CS Lakin manages to add her own twist, plus elements of adventure that are reminiscent of some of the adventurous elements of another wonderful Narnia story:The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. For the first half of the book, the adventurers Jadiel and Callen are both involved in a treacherous journey, for differing reasons, to find some elusive bridge, that universally represents an opportunity for both of them to resolve some conflict that had limited them for the entirety of the book, or made them seriously question their place within this life.
For any myth or fairy tale, this is the hardest part of the journey, where there is incessant tension,as it is supposed to represent the chafing doubt of whether there is true resolution for the myriad number of life’s problems beyond this life or even in it. The Biblical image of Jacob wrestling the “dark figure,” during the night is illustrative of the internal warfare that all of us experience all day and everyday. Within the hero tale, the hero or heroes are fighting the self-conscious weight of their mortality and perceived knowledge of their weaknesses. Unlike the solemn solitude of “The Wolf of Tebron,” this story focuses on two main characters on the journey, who are intriguingly female and male. They reminded me fondly of Jill and Eustace from A Silver Chair, who went on an arduous journey into the unknown to find Prince Rilian, Prince Caspian’s son. Both Jadiel and Callen are warned by various enigmatic figures of the dangers that might befall them as they continue onwards to the bridge they’re seeking. Jadiel has greater pressure to find the leaves of a fabled Eternal tree, that Huldah, an evil witch now Jadiel’s new mother, requests that she return with in a month;otherwise, her father will be killed.
Before starting their journey, both Jadiel and Callen’s mundane lives are sketched out very well by CS Lakin, so that we are able to understand their motivations and weaknesses that will be tested continuously on their journey. Poignantly, the grief that Jadiel experiences over her mother’s death stings the reader’s heart, as CS Lakin is able to use poetic language to not dictate what the reader should feel, but allow the characters to naturally breathe and behave as three-dimensional human beings. Personally, I did not feel as attached to Callen’s story, as I did with Jadiel because I felt Callen was a bit stiff, and a little uninteresting. Then again, he is a very good emotional foundation for Jadiel,and it makes sense for him to be a foil of her grief, and also a reminder of the tenacity of her father. Another thing that was a bit problematic was that sometimes the story lagged towards the middle during the traveling bits, except CS Lakin did manage to keep my interest during those scenes. They just weren’t nearly as exciting as beginning scenes, when readers are horrified by learning of Huldah’s maleficent motives, and how she remains so strangely jealous of Jadiel’s mother. Weirdly, this arrangement reminded me of “Snow White,” particularly one of my favorite Snow White adaptations with Sigourney Weaver. Wonderfully, this book uses these traditional fairy-tale elements as something that pays homage, rather than be used as cheap plagiarism. This tale is still very fresh, and it has its own beating heart of deep meaning underlying its fairy-tale skin.
While I still personally love “The Wolf of Tebron,” a bit more due to my personal preference for the solitary aspect of that story of self-discovery; I really loved this book as well. Fortunately, it neatly differed from its previous installment; therefore, the story felt more self-contained and interesting for that reason. This was a strength of the Narnia books as well, for the Narnia books never got caught up in a literary stalemate. CS Lewis always made sure to incorporate new elements and characters in order to enliven the stories. CS Lakin does the same thing, and this story is another wonderful example of a modern myth that more people should dare themselves to read. She is one of my favorite writers at the moment, whose books evoke some of the same charm as many of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Thankfully, I have the next installment to this series to review in the future. Thanks to AMG Publishers for providing complimentary copies of this and the other book! They are simply fantastic examples of writing that abides by the rules of writing classical myths that edify and richly entertain.
Besides these books, CS Lakin wrote other books under the same name. This one in particular, Time Sniffers, caught my attention because it has a “Wrinkle in Time” aura. For any of my devoted blog readers, you are probably far too aware of my love for that novel, or really anything by Madeleine L’Engle. Anyways, I started reading this book,Time Sniffers, and it is really fantastic. I really hope to post a review of it someday on this blog!