Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reader's Review: "The Boy Named Topaz" by Jeffrey Gartshore

Amazon Synopsis: "Dim-Glow!" That's what the bullies always called Toivo Rallence, the one boy in the entire shining Topaz Realm who can't control Light. His uncle keeps telling him that he has full-bright potential, if he can only figure out how to show it. He sees things so differently than everyone else. He can see hidden things, and sometimes dark things that are looking back at him. Will Toivo survive growing up disabled in the Realm of Light? Will he Shine or Shatter? Only Fate can say....

I will admit, I tend to be a fan of the unorthodox--so long as the author has taken the time to carefully lay out the foundation on which to build the unique perspective and aspect. What better construction for a fantasy world based on the expression of light than having each realm based on a different gemstone? As with any well-grounded world, Gartshore's Realms are each given a specific purpose that contributes to the story: for example, the Rubies tend to be more physical, so they are the military types; those from the Amethyst realm are proficient in all sorts of mind control; Emeralds can manipulate plant and earth matter, and Sapphires have "galvanic" powers that allow them to communicate with and manipulate machines.
Not only does Gartshore present us with this multifaceted world and a suitably diverse cast of characters to live in it and entertain us with their interactions, but he provides a deep realism for his world by giving us something that every world needs: glimpses into its cultural history through poetry and proverbs. Every chapter begins with a short, pithy statement that is associated with the different realms and also gives the reader a hint about what is to happen in that chapter. I love it when books do this—and more so when it's a fabricated source for a fictional world. Every verse was enchanting and made me eager to dive right into the chapter. As I always say, "When you want to find out how a culture lived, look at the archaeology; if you want to find out what they believed, look at the literature." The Realm of Light comes to life and the doors and windows to the imagination are flung wide open in this grand adventure.

Furthermore, Gartshore has seen fit to divert from the cliche norm that a super-endowed Child-of-Destiny is automatically the most proficient at everything. On the contrary, Topaz is bullied for being so talented he's almost useless. He has been told by his uncle that he is significant and special... But according to the perspective of his teachers and schoolmates, he is slow, vulnerable, and rather inept. The teasing isn't just physical violence, but happens in more subtle ways: little pranks, whispering and laughing behind his back—everything a young reader would definitely relate to. Suddenly Topaz is not just the hero... He is one of them, a boy who has to learn and work hard to develop those skills that are supposed to make him special, and struggle to ignore opposition in the process. Along the way, Topaz connects with characters who treat him kindly, and the story even contrasts his experience with that of Pho, his best friend who is every bit as adept and powerful as the reader might assume Topaz should have been. And yet Pho remains a steady friend, not deserting Topaz to the bullies, and helping whenever it is needed. Forces of Shadow are at work to hunt him down and snuff him out, as it were, but Topaz doesn't face the villains alone; he has a group of friends with him and he has at least the skill to realize how the different "powers" work together to accomplish their goals. 
The characters surrounding our main "hero" are diverse and vividly real. In so many stories, the hero becomes the sole focus, with everyone else serving as a background. Gartshore keeps the focus broad, with fleshing out the personalities of various supporting characters as well, giving us an entertaining ensemble instead of just a stark dichotomy of "hero/villain."

This story made me laugh, drew me in, and surprised me with each twist. It's a five-star, "full-bright shiny" adventure for readers of all ages!

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