We've started a brand-new thing at Indies Unlimited this week -- the IU Reading Challenge. Anybody can join -- just click the link to get the skinny. The only hard-and-fast rule is that all the books you choose must be by indie authors.
I'm going to participate by posting a review of one challenge book per month here at Rursday Reads. I plan to go in order (we'll see how long that lasts...), and the first challenge is to read a book by an IU minion or admin. Herewith, then, is my review of Labyrinth Quest by Yvonne Hertzberger.
A young woman named M'rain ventures far from her desert village and must shelter in a cave overnight. There, she is captured by a group of people she didn't know existed -- they live in the caves and are enslaved to a man from their village, on the other side of the mountains.
M'rain gets help from an unlikely source -- a magical lizard named Glick, who claims to work for a deity. He helps M'rain get free of the evil man -- but in return, he demands that she free the other slaves and take them home. There, she meets a young man named P'puck, who fits about as well in his home village as M'rain does in hers. And Glick has more work for them both.
Labyrinth Quest skirts the boundary between magic realism and fantasy. In Hertzberger's earlier series, Earth's Pendulum, the planet itself was sentient, or nearly so. Here, the planet's sentience is wrapped up in Glick. The lizard knows all about the world these people inhabit, but Glick only gives the information out in dribs and drabs. The villagers on both sides of the mountains have found a way to survive, even when the land is harsh; that's more of a testament to their resilience, I think, than to the planet giving them what they need.
My only complaint is that M'rain doesn't have to struggle very hard to meet her challenges. She finds her way almost unerringly through the cave maze, thanks to the magic sight Glick bestows upon her -- and when she does go astray, it turns out Glick wanted her to. She never has to hunt for food and water because Glick leads her to both, and the lizard even reminds her to stock up when it's time to move on. I wanted to see M'rain fail spectacularly at least once, and become stronger by thinking her way out of her problems.
That aside, I enjoyed the book. M'rain and P'puck are appealing characters, the bad guy is suitably evil, and Glick -- well, Glick is an annoying know-it-all. But then, most demigods are. Recommended for readers who enjoy both magic realism and fantasy.