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on Nov. 29, 2011 :
Children of the Aerthwheel is a half YA, half grown-up fantasy novel that has been also been placed in the horror genre. I can kind of see it there, but then again, I kind of can’t. There certainly are some pretty terrifying moments, replete with monsters and mayhem, but overall, the sense of absolute wonder I get makes me place this one squarely in the fantasy genre. Then again, that’s not important, so we’re just going to move on.
I have a few grammatical complaints, as always. The author has a slight issue with missing necessary commas, and there are occasional spelling mistakes – most of them involving two homophones, like “clicks” vs. “cliques” and “sore” vs. “soar”. The vast majority of the writing is error-free though, and seeing a properly used semicolon made me smile so hard I thought I was going to split my face open. When there is an error, it is glaringly obvious, largely because the rest of it is so good!
The pacing is incredibly effective. The novel starts with a series of news articles that at first, I didn’t like, yet as the plot expanded, the author did a great job of tying everything together. Hensler uncovers events in an order that keeps the plot interesting, peeling his story-onion in such a way that each new layer is full of surprises. The novel takes a ton of twists and turns, yet all of them seem “believable” in the sense that there is very little “deus ex machina” going on. In the end, everything is foreshadowed, and clearly – you’ve just got be bright enough to see it. If you aren’t, no fear, you’ll just want to read it again, reveling in the little clues the author has placed on the way. And the reader isn’t left hanging in the end; you find yourself burning for the sequel, but at the same time, you feel like the story has reached a logical stopping point – a balance that is hard to do.
Hensler has a gift for description, neither over-describing nor telling too much. He works in all senses; I would have never thought to describe the smell of a magic stone arrow, especially not with such a creative scent as “clean bed sheets.” Many moments, like a kid’s bullying or a daughter’s forgotten pain, are poignant and heartbreakingly realistic. Take, for example, this scene where Andrew is meeting his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather, Grant, for the first time in years.
“Andrew carefully moved in and they embraced. At first, it was like two sheets of tin grinding into one another during a storm, awkward and unbearable. Then Grant felt the boy’s arms go tight and heard a muffled sob pressed against his weathered neck. Grant’s arms tightened and the hug became something real and definite and meaningful. Grant told himself not to forget this moment, that he had to cherish it for however long he ended up staying in this horrible little room. He had to remember this one thing more than anything else.”
This all brings me to my favorite part. The human element of this book is terrific. As a person that was previously estranged from family for a long section of my life, I was blown away by how well Hensler captured the situation. The characters are all believable teenagers with screwed up family arrangements, resulting in the simultaneous quest for approval, independence, and a hiding place. Each one is an underdog that appeals to us on a fundamental level. Many of them represent an interesting dichotomy of good and evil, and none of them are without essential hubris. Your heart really soars with these heroes and you find yourself cheering for each victory and mourning each defeat.
Overall Rating: 5 stars.
Spectacular, with a twisting plot, incredibly human characters, beautiful imagery, and a great conclusion.
Reviewed for Maria Violante's review blog: http://violantewrites.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/review-children-of-the-aerthwheel-by-l-david-hesler/
(reviewed within a week of purchase)