The Shards by Gary Wassner. Review by Andrea Johnson
If The Twins was as introduction, and The Awakening continued the prelude, then The Shards begins the battle to defeat evil, and save the world.
Our innocent characters are given many new challenges: Sisters are Parth continue on their secret mission to hide the map and are waylaid, the Elfin city of Crispen must defend itself against an ancient monster in the mountain that lives above a needed key, three elves and a flying human must make their way to Sedehar to free Premoran, Tomas and Davmiran attempt to contact each other and other chosen, Colton has his eyes and ears everywhere, and with the death of yet another Lalas, the race for the 11th shard is on. Betrayal and danger lurk everywhere. The pieces of the destiny of the world begin to come together, and many characters, Dav & Tomas especially, are seeing a picture they don't understand. And they are in the center of it. All the pieces and all the tools must end up at the right place, at the right time, to be used properly. The plot is excellent. The characters come alive. But it's the ethical themes and underlying story of this world that is most important. It's everything that happens beneath the characters and their plights that will break your heart.
Rarely have I found an author who trusts his readers enough to give enough hints here and there to figure out what's going to happen long before most of the characters do. Let the light bulb go off for the reader first. Wassner gives those hints, and it makes for an incredible emotional journey. Near the beginning of this volume, Colton's immorality is discussed. It's decided that he is not immoral, but amoral, something altogether different, but possibly just as dangerous, at least for him. A being with different morals than our earthlings doesn't always have to be a bad thing, as our characters will have to learn. Many things in this universe aren't good, or bad, they are just things. Just nature. Another strong theme Wassner explores is that of the ethical ramifications of deification. What happens when a culture deifies someone or something, that, although not human and close to immortal, isn't a god? On this earth, the closest thing to a religion is belief in "The First" Lalas. Phrases abound, such as "May The First be with you," and "Firstspeed on your journey." If that isn't deification, I don't know what is. But Lalas are not gods. They do not listen to, nor do they answer prayers. Their wants and needs coincide with the needs of people only when it is convenient for the Lalas. And when they do not coincide? When seen from a Lalas point of view, the petty fights between the peoples of the earth are exactly that—petty. And in vain. It is not the people who control this world.
Once upon a time, I was afraid of fantasy. My short-lived exposure to Tolkien and Tolkien fans led me to believe that I'd need to read a 700+ page Silmarillion to understand any and all fantasy. A weakness on my part, perhaps. However, if all non-Tolkien fantasy is as accessible and easy to dive into as Wassner, my bookstore giftcard is getting spent in the fantasy section. The accessibility of these books is something that makes them all the more enjoyable and addictive.
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.