Meq by Steve Cash. Review by Mervi Hämäläinen

Book Cover

The book starts in 1881 on a train where the main character, a twelve year old Zianno Zezen, and his parents are traveling to St Louis. Shortly, there is a train accident and both of Zianno's parents are killed but not before his mother tells him to find Umla-Meq and the Sailor, and his father leaves him a baseball ball. Z, as he is called, heals quickly from his grievous wounds and finds a traveling companion in Solomon J. Birnbaum who takes him in as his business partner. They travel to St Louis and settle in a hostel whose inhabitants come to be almost a foster family to Z. However, Z finds out that he has to stay moving so that ordinary humans do not notice that he doesn't age.

He finds another of his mysterious race, Ray, who tells him about the Meq. The Meq are an old race of people whose origins they themselves have forgotten. A Meq is destined to stay physically at twelve years old until he or she meets with his or her Ameq or soul mate who is always another Meq of the opposite gender. Then they can choose together to enter Zeharkatu which is the time when the Meq chooses to grow up and have children with his or her soul mate. After they choose to enter Zeharkatu they will become ordinary humans except for the memories of their long lives. All of the Meq look almost exactly the same and some of them have special powers to influence the minds of ordinary humans. They have five Stones which give them their powers. Each of the Stones belongs to one family line and one Meq from each family carries a Stone and protects it. Z finds out that he has the Stone of Dreams and he meets the protectors of three other Stones.

Z meets and befriends humans but a rogue Meq called the Fleur-du-Mal, the Flower of Evil, kills some of them. Unlike the other Meq, who love peace and don't want to meddle in human affairs, Fleur-du-Mal is an ancient assassin who practically oozes evil. Z wants revenge but there are more important things to do: the time of the Remembering is near and the Meq need all of the Stones in order to find out who they are and where they have come from. Alas, the holder of one of the Stones is almost impossible to find and she wants nothing to do with the rest of the Meq. Z and his Meq friends travel to Asia in order to find her.

Cash's writing style is smooth and the mythology that he has created is intriguing. Clearly, he can create evocative scenes when he wants to. Even when the plot isn't fast-paced, he manages to hold the reader's interest. However, his style is somehow muted. His descriptions aren't colorful even though he could have easily described St Louis, Singapore, or New Orleans with far more color, sounds, and smells. But the places aren't at the centre of the tale, just the characters.

Most of his characters are nice and likable but without much color and emotion. Z isn't seen missing his parents even though seeing them die gruesomely right in front of his eyes should be traumatic to anyone let alone to a twelve year old. But Z moves on smoothly and quickly without feeling much of anything except for curiosity toward the mysterious Sailor and Umla-Meq which his mother mentioned. On the other hand, when Z's human friends are killed he wants to avenge them. Except for the Fleur-du-Mal the ancient Meq characters are all serene and full of old wisdom. There are also strong hints that most, if not all, characters in the book know more than they are willing to tell.

The humans in the book come in practically two varieties: Z's friends who understand and support the Meq, and people who want to exploit the Meq for their own reasons. Some of the latter variety keep one or more Meq around as lucky charms, and prevent others from coming into contact with them.

Despite the fact that the story is told in first person point-of-view, there is a clear emotional distance between the reader and all of the characters. Z is clearly narrating the story from some later time and his voice is dispassionate and somewhat somber. There is very little humor in the book.< BR>
The idea of the eternally pre-pubescent Meq is intriguing, but Cash doesn't get much out of them.

Mervi Hämäläinen is a long-time reader of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. She's currently working as a freelance translator.