Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel

Ariel lives in the small village of Canberra Docks. She's the daughter of a Healtouch, and Ariel herself wants to be one when she grows up. She's coming up on her 13th birthday, better known as Naming Day, when she'll take a test and be confirmed as a healtouch, allowing her to become a true student of her mother.

Her closest friend is Ezekiel, better known as Zeke, and he's hoping to become a treetalker like his father. But when something goes wrong with Zeke's tree, he goes to Ariel for her help, She can't find anything wrong at the bottom of the tree, but decides to climb it and see if there is anything wrong higher up.

What they find is a small dart, called a singing dart, lodged high in the upper branches of Zeke's tree. A message dart is old technology, mostly lost since there was a catastrophe and everyone went blind. It took two generations for sight to return to the children, and many people died, unable to take care of themselves. After sight began to return, Strange talents appeared among the people. Some of them could talk to trees, while others could control the wind or craft just about anything. Other talents included Storians, who were historians and teachers, GreatJudges, who could winnow truth from lie just by listening to people, and Finders, who could find anything that existed.

The dart that Ariel finds has the symbols for many of the talents on it, and her mother knows some of the ones she doesn't. But before she can show it to her teacher, a Storian, two strange men arrive at the village, two finders named Scarl and Elbert. They are seeking the person who found the dart, but when they say why, Ariel knows they are lying. They claim they want to take her to someone who actually sent the darts, but when Ariel doesn't want to go with him, they back off until after Naming Day.

There, Zeke passes his test, but Ariel fails her own. Then, the two finders seek her out again and once more press her to go with them on their journey, even proposing her mother come along. Ariel is stunned by the thought that she's good only to be a fool, making people laugh for food, but her mother turns them down.

In return, the two finders kidnap her and leave mayhem behind in the village, killing her mother, burning down the tree that watched over the village and Zeke's tree. She doesn't realize at first what they have done... she waits for the people of Canberra Docks to track her down and rescue her, but after all that, only Zeke has the courage to come after her, and after he helps her escape, he tells her what happened. And he reveals a greater secret: that since the death of his tree, he's been unable to talk to trees at all.

But as they attempt to evade Scarl and Elbert, they come to realize that their true talents lie in different directions, and that they are meant to help find something called "The Vault", a repository of lost lore that many people dismiss as a fantasy, but which others know really exist. Only whoever sent out the message darts may not really have wanted it to be found, and wanted to kill whoever could find it- including Ariel and Zeke.

Of the two Finders, Elbert wants to kill them, but Scarl wants to help them find the vault, because the woman he loves, an Allcraft, will die without the medicines and medical knowledge contained inside. Soon, it will be up to Ariel to find the vault with her Farwalker powers, but can she learn to use them when she is the only Farwalker left in the world?

I found this an intriguing story, with a post-apocalyptic society and words that come from times before (Storian is a contraction of "Historian", and an intriguing mystery that turns out to not be what everyone thinks it is. The vault is a storehouse of lost knowledge for every craft and profession, but while some want it to better the lives of the people who live on, others wish to shun and destroy it because such knowledgeis what led to the apocalypse in the first place.

But even in the world as it is when the story opens, the people are slowly slipping backwards into forgetting knowledge. No one seems to read or write (except for the Storians)- at best they seem to have symbols rather than a written language. More and more medicines are being forgotten, and some of the professions, like Farwalker, have died out for lack of that very same knowledge.

Ariel is dragged into this war between those who wish to remember, and those who wish to forget, all unknowing of her talent and her powers, which she only discovers during the course of the story, and that by trusting her instincts. And in the end, the village she wished to live in all her life has grown too small to contain her, and Ariel Farwalker is what she has really become.

I highly recommend this book. I found the story intense and gripping, and Ariel's responses are those of a real girl, although the end of the book, with the relationship developing between her and Scarl made me a little uncomfortable, because it seems like it might turn out to be romantic, and he's twice as old as she is, and she's only 13. But in truth, nothing really happens between them, and it just might be a camaraderie thing, but I wasn't so sure of that.

Since these implications only came at the very end, most of the story didn't really bother with that, and it's ultimately forgettable with how good the rest of the book is. Any tween to teen who enjoys stories of survival, of kids having adventures on their own and futuristic stories, will enjoy this a great deal. It's a great adventure, and very satisfying to read.

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