Tuesday, 10 January 2017

'Wondrous' by Travis M. Riddle

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Travis, for sending me an early copy of 'Wondrous' to read and review. 

'There were loud shouts. Angry noises. Things to make Miles' skin tingle and stomach flip. He was soothed with quick I love yous and goodnight forehead kisses, and then the room blackened into stillness.' 
Establishing pretty quickly that Miles' home life wasn't the best, I hadn't been expecting a start like this. With the bright colours and beautiful watercolour design of the cover, it tricks you into thinking it's going to be a much more lighthearted fantasy.
If you didn't come here for emotional upheaval and countless deaths, look away now...

Miles is huddled under his duvet at home in Texas, trying to block out the sounds of his recently divorced parents arguing. A storm is raging outside, and when he opens his eyes he's surprised to find that he's been transported to a mysterious wood made up of trees covered in purple leaves.
Within moments he's being apprehended by two scorpion-esque creatures: the Skyr (the yellow person on the cover). They believe he's a spy for Queen Alys, and he gets thrown in a cage with a green frog-like man called Mortimer (also pictured on the cover). 
Mortimer explains that Rompu are in the middle of a civil war: King Mykael used magic to summon an uncontrollable flying monster called the Veratt (you guessed it, the terrifying purple thing on Miles' head), and Queen Alys disagreed with his actions, so now the world is divided. The majority of Skyr and Omne (lizard men, who I think of as similar to komodo dragons) support the King, while the Queen is supported by the Rompuns - Mortimer's species - and the Ruhigans, who have wings (and who I picture looking like Hawlucha from Pokémon).
Miles and Mortimer manage to escape when a rouge lightning bolt strikes one of the trees surrounding the Skyr encampment, causing a fire. In the panic the two prisoners get away and Mortimer promises he'll take Miles to Trafier to speak to the Queen, who might be able to get him home.
But in the world of Rompu, Miles has magic. He finds a wild dog called a maylan, who has an injured leg. Mortimer tells him to leave the maylan behind which makes Miles distraught. He reaches out to stroke the animal and a blue-green aura surrounds them, after which the maylan able to walk unassisted when moments before he could barely stand. Miles calls the creature Clint, and he joins them on their quest to reach Trafier.
After a brief rest with the Ruhigans, Miles and Mortimer are given Carriers (which I imagine are like World of Warcraft Wyverns) to ride to get them back to the Rompun's home. The Veratt attacks during this leg of their quest, and Mortimer falls from his Carrier when it's swiped out of the air. Miles and Clint make it to Trafier, where he has to tell Jaselle, Mortimer's wife, the fate that has befallen her husband.
After Miles has had a couple of days to rest, he meets Queen Alys. Mortimer has been corresponding with Jaselle and the Queen during their journey, and he has told them that he believes Miles possesses magical powers. It's the first Miles has heard of it: he's just a regular boy who wants to go home. But after a few days of training, they all agree that Mortimer was right.
When Miles is angry, he conjures fireballs in his hands. When he's sad, it begins to rain, and when that sadness turns to fear lightning strikes all around. He can't work out what helped him heal Clint, but he knows that the adults are on to something.
It's difficult to keep random lightning storms under wraps. The King finds out that Miles has powers, and he sends in Jericho and Kricket, an Omne and a Skyr, to bring the boy back to him. He wants Miles to defeat the Veratt, because since he summoned in the King has had two warring personalities. The murderous, evil one seems to be becoming stronger the longer the Veratt is allowed to roam free.
But Miles is only nine, and saving the world is a big responsibility. He needs to focus on the memories that hurt him the most - his parents arguing over something his dad did, his grandmother telling him she thought she was dying - and it drains him. If he isn't strong enough to face his past, how can he be strong enough to take down the Veratt?

'Wondrous' was confusing. I often struggle to read fantasy because I find it difficult to picture the brand new species and exotic locations described, but because Travis adapted the Omne, Skyr, Ruhigans and Rompuns from creatures in our realm, this didn't plague me as much as it has in other high fantasy that I've read. 
However, because Miles' powers are linked to his emotions, there are often rapid flashbacks interspersed with the action going on in the present, and the jumping back and forth made me feel dizzy. It was linked beautifully, sentences said in the present throwing Miles back into a scene from earlier in his life in a very intelligent way, but I feel as though it would work better on the screen than it does on the page. Despite the fact that the two scenes flowed into each other, I often found the blending obscured meaning and there were large sections that I had to read twice to properly understand.
That was my only complaint
This book is a delight to read. Miles is only nine years old, but he lost his innocence early in life due to his parents' divorce and his grandmother's death. That makes 'Wondrous' a bit of a coming-of-age novel, with Miles learning to deal with his broken family and his mysophobia while journeying through Rompu and helping to save them from the evil Veratt.
Due to the death and destruction the Veratt causes, 'Wondrous' is definitely a young adult novel. There are quite a lot of difficult terms used when describing the civil war that's raging through the land, and the injuries caused by the Veratt are described in often graphic detail. I wouldn't recommend it to a reader the same age as Miles, but I would suggest you don't write it off because it's told from a child's point of view. I found it easier to empathise with Miles than most protagonists: he just wants to go home to his family and his dog, and he doesn't really want to face up to his responsibility as the only one capable of defeating the monstrous beast. 
The memories that Miles needs to access to use his magic will be familiar to us all, the death of Miles' grandmother hitting me particularly hard. Travis has a skill at writing emotive passages, and at multiple points I found myself feeling angry and upset alongside Miles, particularly because the King of Rompu doesn't think twice about manipulating his feelings to access his magic. 
I particularly appreciated the way Travis dealt with Miles' mysophobia. Rather than including the phobia as a character quirk and quickly sweeping it under the table, his fear of germs crops up regularly and we watch as he learns to live with his fear, eventually beginning to move past it. The portrayal of anxiety was authentic, and the character development made sense: I bet if you were living in swampland, you'd find it hard to maintain a fear of germs too! 
I had to put my scepticism on the back burner a couple of times - Miles is able to convince the adults to let him do whatever he wants, and he manages to defeat the Veratt despite being told that one of his arms was rendered virtually unusable after a painful fall - but I enjoyed this book a lot more when I let the story carry me along. There's always going to be potential plot holes in fantasy novels (particularly those with child protagonists) but the beauty of 'Wondrous' is that it impressed me in spite of these little annoyances. Travis has poured his heart and soul into the world of Rompu, and with a world this well thought out and crafted I genuinely hope we'll be able to visit the residents again in the future.

The idea of magical skills being linked to your emotion isn't uncommon, but the range of different species that Travis created to populate his world are extremely unique. Rompu and its inhabitants are fascinating and while I found it a little confusing at points, overall Travis explains the history and geography of the world extremely well. Excerpts from text books make you feel as though you're really researching this world alongside Miles, and the folklore brings it to life. 
This is Travis's debut novel, but I'm already excited to see what he'll write next. With a mind like his, it's bound to be wondrous. 

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