The Awakening by Gary Wassner. Review by Andrea Johnson
The magic and wonder continues in Book Two of Wassner's GemQuest series, The Awakening. Minor spoilers ahead—be warned!—especially if you haven't read the first book, The Twins. No need to be nervous about sequels. This isn't so much a sequel as it is a continuation of an epic story of good versus evil, love, loss, triumph, and the cruelest kind of betrayal. This is epic fantasy at its best, and on so many levels.
Wassner shows us more of his lovingly-created world while our ensemble cast grows larger with the introduction of the Sisters of Parth, a group of women who live in the Tower of Parth, and follow their sacred mission of protecting a secret map. We also meet Premoran, a wizard of amazing strength, and his unusual companion Teetoo, along with a number of Colton's female minions, and a rainbow of other characters. With so many characters to keep track of, I was worried I might get confused or not be able to keep up. Not so. Wassner does a wonderful job of developing each character, and helping us get to know them in turn, as they discover their destinies. Every character must act independently to reach his or her own destiny, although everything is intimately connected. All the pieces must be in place, or the final battle will be lost, forever.
We also learn more about the Lalas, but not through them, only through what they say and do to people. It would have been easy for Wassner simply to make tree-people who do things that people do, and think the way people think. Again, he met the challenge head on, and created this race of trees who aren't human, typically don't care what humans do, have their own morals, beliefs, and goals. This is truly an alien race, and they are on their own side. They may talk to humans, but we have no control over anything they do. In a sense, the humans are at the mercy of the Lalas. Mortals are but playthings and pawns in the eyes of gods, are we not?
The title, The Awakening works on many levels. Davmiran, obviously, wakes up, albeit with no memory of his youth, surrounded by strangers, and in the middle of an attack by Colton's forces. But the people of the earth are awakening too. For so long, the humans, the elves, the dwarves, everyone else, have lived so safely, so serenely. Life has been easy, while evil was buried. Not so anymore. Everyone must snap out of their reverie, to realize now is the time that all their planning, all their training, and all their faith, will be put to the test. We also have more than one set of brothers to be concerned about. When given the opportunity to meet Davmiran, Tomas sets off in the opposite direction, with little reason given. Premoran is Colton's brother, and knows he must face him in a final standoff, that only one of them can survive. Does the same fate await our younger set of twins?
Wassner uses a finely honed skill to weave golden threads through The Awakening, while at the same time, showing us how easily every golden thread has a dark shadow. The concept of the existence of free will is brought up time and time again. While every character is always but a few choices from helping to save the world, they are all, to the one, but a few steps from serving the darkness, as well. Every single person must walk that line, choose every day which side they will stand on, and be responsible for that choice. It is an important and inspiring message.
Occasionally we get a bit of an overdose of Deus Ex Machina (Premoran seems to be always at the right place at the right time to save someone), but most of the time it works as a plot device to get all the players where they need to be. I'm happy that book three is out and available, since this one ends on a cliffhanger. I'm in real trouble when I finish book three, and have to wait until Spring 2007 for book four!
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.