I'm happy to present to you Lisa Stanger's first review at The Well-Read Child!
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier
Timou and Neill are very different. He is the illegitimate son of a King who lives in the palace; she is the daughter of a mage and lives in an isolated village. They need to join together to recover the "heart of the city" and fight against an evil power who has a hold on both of them. The stories of these two characters intertwine throughout, as we follow Timou on her quest to reach the city in order to assist Neill, or “The Bastard” as the book calls him, in finding his missing father and sibling. A quest, a challenges, a battle and then a resolution. This book is on familiar territory as far as fantasy goes but the writing is fresh and detailed. Timou is on a quest to find her parents, but her success is not a straight forward one. Characters in this book are often ambiguously good or evil and their alliances do change throughout.
Neumeier confidently creates a fantasy world in this, her first novel. At first the adjective rich writing seemed a little like a thesaurus but after 10 pages I really valued the way she had used language to assist the reader to envisage her fantastical settings.
“The sun, rising behind her, turned all the forest to fire and gold: autumn had caught up to the forest, but not winter. The snow stopped where the trees began. All their leaves were gold and flame-orange, and some had fallen, so that the forest was roofed and floored with gold and fire”
She is careful to explain plot points that may confuse readers, but does this in such a way that is isn’t a clumsy or obvious. A few times I felt like major revelations or events were rushed which I felt reduced overall satisfaction of the reader but the final dénouement ties things up and would explain things to a reader who missed important points. There is one exception to this rule: the heart of the city. Even after I had finished this book, I was still sketchy on the concept that underpins the entire story. I spent a lot of time trying to understand exactly what it was and never really did.
“Through the rain, through the storm, rode the dark Hunter on his white mare: lightning scattered from the mare’s hooves and tangled in its wild mane; it tossed its head and settled back on its haunches, sliding down the wind to the road. Thunder rolled behind it, crashing as its hooves struck the ground, and the mare flung back its head, eyes crazed,, muscles bunching to spring forward" (p. 55).
Dynamic characters (especially the Hunter), a gripping story, convincing world creation and descriptive writing help make this book a competent fantasy worth reading. I particularly think girls would appreciate the female protagonist, lack of brutal battle scenes and intellectual slant of the quest. It is written for teens but there is nothing (apart from the nickname of the King's son) that would preclude it from older elementary school children.
- Reading level: Young Adult
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (July 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375847049
- ISBN-13: 978-0375847042