Rarely do I download a “Free Today” novel, start reading it at bedtime, get hooked, and finish the book by dawn. Something about the narrative voice kept me listening to Emma’s story. Cienwen (pronounced Kine-Wen) Langley, your wish is fulfilled: you inherited your dad’s gift. He was “a born storyteller and poetry lover who could recite Shakespeare soliloquy’s from memory,” she writes in a special note at the end of the novel.
He died before his daughter’s debut novel was published. (Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?)
Not until I’d reached the end did I learn the poignant story of her dad. In scoping out the novel and deciding whether or not I’d read it, I was caught by the amazon author bio: Ceinwen grew up in a desert town of fewer than 300 people and one TV channel and “nothing to do.” She learned to entertain herself by reading and making up her own stories. This reminded me of another Australian author I’d just happened across not long ago, but I couldn’t think who. After slogging through hundreds of recent tweets I’d tweeted, I identified that author: Scott J Robinson, who grew up in a small Aussie town “where the only entertainment was stuff you invented yourself.” I’d downloaded his novel, The Space Between (Tribes of the Hakahei #1) (Kindle Edition) more for his bio than the book description. I did read the first page but had a deadline to write a review for Perihelion Science Fiction ezine and had to set it aside. A week later, I’m still pleading “swamped” to a multitude of authors who nudge me and ask if I’ve gotten to their books yet.
For the record, I’d never heard of Ceinwen Langley and she never asked me to review her novel, nor did NetGalley or anyone else ask me to review it.
The story is simple, allegorical,and familiar: villagers obey their leader’s rules, no matter how stifling or unfair, until one brave soul dares to question him. “You’re not the first young woman to try to bend the rules,” Emma is told, “but they (the others, not the rules) failed and so will you.” (Occasional syntax issues like that one could turn me off to a book, but this one held my attention anyway. I remained in Emma’s world.)
SYNOPSIS: “For as long as anyone can remember, young women have vanished into the woods. Believing them to be weak willed and lured by demons, the zealous Mayor enforces rules to protect them: rules that render the village women submissive and silent, or face being ostracised. Emma’s only hope of a decent life is to be married by her eighteenth birthday, but her quick mouth and low social standing make her a poor prospect. Lonely and afraid, she finds herself dreaming of the woods, and of a mysterious boy who promises freedom and acceptance if she’ll only step across the border into the trees. With her birthday fast approaching, she has a decision to make: run away from her future, or fight for it.”
Rarely does a YA novel deliver such interesting and diverse characters, such hard consequences for those who defy authority. A strong female protagonist makes choices, good or bad. It’s refreshing to find a YA novel with no profanity, no explicit sex, no shallow, materialistic preoccupation with wealth and status symbols.
The strength of the heroine and the oppressiveness of her community kept reminding me of The Hunger Games, even though The Edge of the Woods isn’t a dystopian novel with children forced to kill each other for a spectator sport. Emma is attracted to two male leads, one a villager, one a mysterious boy from the woods. As a reader, I was torn between the two.
Spoilers prevent me from comparing the two or even hinting at which man (if any) wins. Overall, the ending is gratifying, but certain conflicts were never resolved. Emma triumphs, but not everyone who rooted for her does. I’m haunted.
No, I’m mad. I’m mad as hell at Ceinwen for creating a character I love so much, it pains me to have the novel end with that character in literary limbo.
At least the character is alive. Rick Bylina can attest that I’ve given him endless grief for killing off his best fictional character ever.
So, I lay awake, tossed and turned, vowed to knock a star off the novel, then eventually settled down and decided the novel is so well written, the story so compelling, the message so good, I’ll just forgive that one epic flaw. NEVER leave the fate of a beloved character hanging, unless a sequel is planned, or the wrath of Carol will come down on you. One way or another.
Hop on over to Kevin Hardman’s Speculative Fiction Blog Hop for an author interview with Ceinwin. Excerpt below:
3. Why do I write what I do?
I love the optimism of young adult works. I love the urgency, the young characters trying their best to navigate a world and situations they might not have a great deal of experience and perspective on. Young people have enormous fortitude and bravery, and their ability to adapt makes for such great character and story potential. Young adult fiction still has such a bad rap for being frivolous or light reading and it’s not, as some like to say, the best time of our lives, but it is where we do so much of our growing and where we shape our perspectives. Youth is about possibility and hoping for the best. And call me a sucker, but I like to find hope even in the darkest settings.
That’s why I finally decided on five stars. This is a great story with a courageous heroine and a message of hope that sets The Edge of the Woods apart from other YA novels. I sincerely hope it becomes a best-seller.