"JOURNEY TO THE FRINGE: The Stone Mage Wars Vol. 1," by Kelli Swofford Nielsen, Shadow Mountain, $17.99, 338 pages (f) (ages 12 and up).
"Journey to the Fringe" is a book of broken promises.
It appears, at first, that "Journey to the Fringe" will be a magical journey to a distant, dangerous land that few visit and from which few return. It is a journey but it's also a curious combination of dangers and magical rescues that make the reader take the dangers somewhat lightly.
Everytime a hero disappears or seems to die, he or she does not. So even at the end, it's hard to believe that what occurs is going to last.
The fantasy involves a number of stones that enhance the powers and gifts of the possessor. Every character in the book has a different gift and the ability to save the kingdom of Lyria at some point, a kingdom threatened by the evil Abaddon.
Every character also has his personal fears and demons. Princess Ivy wonders if her father, King Than, ever loved her at all. She's uncertain about her ability to lead.
Her sister Mara is trying to find her niche and makes a costly decision that alters her future. She, too, questions who she is and what she can actually do.
John Merrick is the sea captain with the strength and power to direct the water and the sea voyage. He's a strong, hero presence.
Simon is not so much a court fool as a man with a quest, determined to save the princess but it's never made clear as to why and how.
Burr is the young stowaway who provides some comic relief as he is brash and rather incorrigible.
Gilda Reed is a witch without confidence who is thrown into the story, why?
Medwin is an elderly seer, one of the people in the book with the power to see what's happening far across the world and nearby. The seers in both the good and evil worlds serve to help and to defeat and it's never clear if they can change what they see in time to help much.
Hastings is a hidden legacy who, at first, appears to simply be a rather contrary seaman.
There's a little bit of the "Wizard of Oz" in this story with the White City full of people who don't seem to be more than robots — robots ruled by a great, pompous prince.
There's some bits and pieces of other novels and stories in the looking glasses, the people living far underground, the magic in the earth, the water and with time itself.
So while there's certainly enough going on to keep the story interesting, there's a sense of having read it elsewhere. There's also a fair amount of confusion as to exactly why and how things got to a crisis state.
The language is clean and age appropriate while the battles aren't gruesomely described.
Then at the end, there's a set of happy roundup pages that kind of bely the great obstacles faced along the way.
The novel gets a C+.
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