August 28, 2012

Shade and Sorceress: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book I

Written by Catherine Egan
Coteau Books
279 pp.
Ages 10+
September, 2012

It's wonderful getting into a new book and, as you're reading, you realize that it's captivating you the way the Harry Potter series did: anticipating the next turn in the plot or another unknown fantastical creature with crafty powers, or delivery to a world where the laws of nature need not hold true.  Shade and Sorceress continued to surprise me with unexpected plotting, ultimately leaving me waiting for next book in The Last Days of Tian Di series and hopefully answers to a few surprise questions at the book's conclusion.

Tian Di, the One World, was the fantastical world in which humans were slaves to the Faeries; that is, until the Mancers, scholars of that world, used magic to begin its ongoing separation into Di Shang, the land of humans and beasts, and Tian Xia, the home of the beings of power.  Not surprising that the arrival of five emissary Mancers to Holburg, the island home of twelve-year-old Eliza Tok, would cause such a stir, especially when they arrive on dragons.  On behalf of the Supreme Mancer, Kyreth, these emissaries have come to take Eliza back to their Citadel to begin her studies for her position as Shang Sorceress, the role her mother Rea held until she eloped with a human, Eliza's father, Rom Tok.  Determined to protect her daughter, Rea had used Magic to hide Eliza, although Rea was killed in assisting the Mancers and their allies to entrap the Xia Sorceress in the Arctic.

Although she enjoys learning, Eliza demonstrates no magical powers, except when Kyreth puts her in the life-threatening position of guarding the Crossing between the two worlds.  Eliza learns that her father has been taken by the Cra, the bird-like creatures of the Xia Sorceress, to the Arctic and will only be released if Eliza brings the Sorceress the Mancers' Book of Barriers.  With Charlie, who Eliza sees as a thirteen-year-old boy, though he is a shape-shifting Shade, and Nell, her human friend from Holburg, Eliza sets out to save her father by heading to Tian Xia to seek out the Triumvira, the 3 beings who banished the Sorceress to the Arctic.

Much illusion is used in Shade and Sorceress to hide that which is real and construct that which is imagined but the relationships upon which all plot lines rely are quite genuine.  There are parents protecting their children, lovers who betray, friends who offer unconditional support, prejudice based on power, new allies from nebulous connections, and deception by so many.  The wealth of characters and the nature of their gifts, against a backdrop of caves, carved, black cliffs, ravening forests, hanging gardens, a dead marsh, arctic tundra, temples, a crystal city and all landscapes and structures in between, make an auspicious introduction to The Last Days of Tian Di series.  Fortunately, Catherine Egan, Canadian-born author currently living in New Jersey, neither leaves the reader frustrated with an incomplete ending or a neatly resolved storyline.  With Shade and Sorceress, young readers, not just young adults, are promised a refreshingly new fantasy series that is otherworldy but devoid of vampires.

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