Semester Aboard: More than mystery, more than myth, more than monsters and more than magic.
Jen Maddox has enrolled in an international studies program aboard a cruise ship to broaden her horizons by experiencing those of others – learning a new language, experiencing other cultures, visiting sites ancient and mysterious, meeting boys – without a clue that a new and fantastic horizon awaits her shipboard. Like the book itself, Jen starts out wide-eyed and light-hearted but her fate finds her standing on a lonely deck, in the dark, demanding believable answers to unbelievable questions. Elizabeth Kirke has created a wonderful new urban fantasy, with brand new perspectives on vampires, witches and other races of “Magics,” that brings together an unexpected cast of characters into touching, frightening and very real relationships.
Ms. Kirke does a wonderful job of slowly revealing little quirks about the characters that begin to add up to impossible conclusions, and that’s only the beginning. As each round of mystery about each character is resolved, each becomes more complex with a deeper personal history and deeper interpersonal history. One of the best aspects of the story for me was Kirke’s fresh, creative and well thought-out approach to both the individual and cultural traits of her various races of magical beings. As I read the book I was drawn in by the detail of the characters’ backgrounds and behaviors – they’re a likable bunch and there is a fun logic to the fantasy that makes you a part of it.
Written in a conversational first person voice from Jen’s point of view, the story has layer upon layer of her intuitions and suspicions, and with each resolution and new discovery the layers grow deeper and darker. Within the bigger story of the Magics, their lives and world, the central conflict of the book emerges from some unwelcome stowaways (and converts) with a truly dark history of their own. I was particularly drawn in by the rhythm of the story, like a roller coaster ride with increasingly higher peaks. From the routines of classes and students’ innocent flirtations to intense friendships and fight scenes that grow more intense, disturbing and dangerous with every peak. The story gets very dark, before the dawn. And with all of this going on Jen has a profound voyage of self discovery that is the biggest mystery of all.
Read this book, and remember it the next time you look closely into your friends’ eyes.