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The Waking Land
by Callie Bates
Del Rey, $27.00, 384 pp
Published: July 2017

A very nice debut novel.  Ms. Bates should be proud of her effort.

Lady Elanna lives in a world where her ancestral people are subjugated by a more warlike society.  At one time, her people used powerful magics associated with the earth but after they were conquered, they lost many abilities; abilities that are now outlawed and punishable by death.  When Elanna was but five years old, her father rebelled against the throne and she was forfeit for his actions.  The King took Alanna from her home and people and raised her as his own.  By the time she was a young woman, her memories of her parents were all but gone and replaced with chagrin and embarrassment for her parents’ treasonous actions.  But her world is turned upside down when her beloved step-father is poisoned and she is accused of murder by her step-sister.  She ends up with nowhere to run to except back to her own people – people that she neither loves nor trusts.

Once on the run, Elanna finds she needs to actually use her natural abilities – something that she has spent most of her life hiding.  She finds a kindred spirit and magical talents in a young man lately come from the Emperor’s court – the very country that has outlawed all magics.  But Elanna is becoming more aware, and possibly a bit cynical, and wonders if his attentions are sincere or if she’s being used.  She also comes to find that what she believed of certain people isn’t what they are, at all.  The beloved step-father turns out to be a calculating despot, her birth father turns out to be a hero, the young woman who grew up in her place turns out to be someone no one expected, and the would-be young king disappoints.  These revelations force her to look beyond what she was taught and question her own birthright.

Once Elanna embraces her own talents and her destined role, she fully commits her whole self and becomes someone more powerful than the new queen, her erstwhile step-sister, could have imagined.  Elanna will have to decide if using her own magics will trigger a civil war that will destroy both peoples.  Not using her magics will ensure that her birth country will remain enslaved and everyone who believes in her will be executed. 

The author uses the first person voice fairly effectively.  It is hard to give the reader much backstory or character motivations when using the first person but the story moves along pretty well.  Elanna’s voice is strong and I found her a very sympathetic character.  The story shows weakness in that we only know the other characters through their interactions with Elanna.  It does give a certain flavor to the story and keeps both the reader and Elanna very much in the present. But it also means that when a character is removed from Elanna’s presence, they disappear from the story.  I was disappointed when the author cavalierly killed a character off-screen giving his demise a single line. It was an interesting plot but not very complex.  Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed the journey but I’m not enamored enough with the world to want another book.  ~~ Catherine Book

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