“Zera and the Green Man” by Sandra Knauf

 
 The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower *almost* drives this book
January 31, 2014
Fans of the paranormal have seen enough zombies and vampires; time to usher in the magic of plants. “Zera and the Green Man” reminds me of the coolness of a Dylan Thomas poem, “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.” The power it takes to crack open a seed is something. The distance a seed can go is something else. “Seeds are great travelers, you know,” a plant tells Zera, “but there are some who are the best travelers of all. You even breathe them in, exhale them. They ride into and out of your body as well as on the winds. Pollen grains and spores.”

Yes, a plant told Zera that. Sounds crazy, but it’s fun. (Did I mention that vampires are over-done?) The Green Man is an ancient myth, and it’s fun to see him come alive for modern teenage readers.

Classic elements of this story include tropes that we never tire of: an orphaned protagonist, raised by icky uncle (this one has warts on his hands and his niece thinks of him as Toad); his meddling girlfriend (mustn’t let her become a stepmother!); the protagonist has unusual or paranormal talents that grow and develop as the story progresses (worked so well for Harry Potter, and works for Zera, too); add a wise, earth-mother grandma and sweet, handsome boy next door– all good.

A newer trope, growing in popularity, is that plants may be sentient. And powerful. Do plants have a voice? Should they have a voice in human affairs? Interesting question, and I applaud any author brave enough to address it in a YA novel. I hope teenagers will be as awed as I am that “Some have compared genetic engineering to the splitting of the atom.”

I love the way Zera communicates with plants, and the way she travels via extraordinary means –something akin to the bilocation of Jewish mystics and Catholic saints–but then come the eco-terror scenes, the defeat of the villains (or not; series, anyone?), and the tropes of the thriller genre. Ultimately, the prose, plot, action sequences and character development almost drove me to a 2- or 3-star rating. Then again, there’s that spore-scene I love so much. Too cool! All right, 4 stars it is, even if the Evil Laboratory of mad genetic engineering is way over the top, and the improbable experiments remind of a Goose Bumps novel my son read in first grade.

It does my heart good,though, to find so much biology in a YA novel, from the Venus Fly Trap to George Washington Carver, who “mentioned the Greens” in his journals and “knew about the fairies,too.” Carver also spoke of The Green Man. “I’m a man of science,” one adult tells Zera, “but there’s a physical realm out there that science has not even touched.” Sounds like Carver, whose awe and reverence for the world of plants *shoud* have permeated this novel, but, unfortunately, the author apparently studied under Donald Maas, whose workshops tend to inspire writers to focus more on *action* than character development and poetic prose. I’m pretty sure it’s not Maas’s fault, but I haven’t read any of his own novels to see if plot devices prevail while character development suffers.

I wanted more of the magic George Washington Carver wrote of, more of the fairy-tale feeling the story almost delivers, and more of the Force of Nature that Thomas alludes to – “The force that drives the water through the rocks / Drives my red blood.” This novel is so very close to being epic, archetypal,and classic, but the commercial market’s command to “deliver some action!” steers the story into a different genre. The magic of the Green Man and the potential appeal of Zera, a modern-day green heroine, get lost in the contrived business of stopping some really gruesome, over-the-top bio-engineering experiments. Too bad, The story has so much potential, if the author could tap the force that through the green fuse drives the flower….

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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