Bret James Stewart's Reviews > The Haunted Realm

The Haunted Realm by Emilyann Allen
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it was amazing

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Haunted Realm is the second book of Emilyann Girdner’s Obsidian series. This is a wonderful collection and definitely one of the best in the contemporary YA Fantasy scene. The series has a dark fantasy, dystopian feel in its generally bleak setting and the tyranny of the Creator overlords, and Girdner is skilled at portraying this, but her work is notable because she manages to be equally proficient in countering all that with a novel of love, hope, and friendship while maintaining an interesting setting and plot. She is a rare talent in the field, and you should read her books.

First of all, I would like to start with the physical characteristics of the book. The cover artwork is quite attractive: it is a mix of greens that fits well with the overall pathos of the book, which is largely set in a vast swampland. It features a selection of trees and a labyrinth design with the protagonist’s, Araina, face visible within. The book is laid out nicely, easy on the eyes, and is virtually error-free, which demonstrates the care and concern Mrs. Girdner has lavished on her book. This is the way all books should be published, but this is sadly not the reality, thus the book stands out in the contemporary market. In addition to the book, Girdner has a website supporting the book and series, with the same theme/design and care she has given to the novel.

I won’t give anything away in this review as far as spoiler material, but I do want to provide a little background for those who missed the first book. Bound in the Labyrinth, the Mahks serve as slaves for the Creator overlords who, via a mysterious, probably magical process, made them dig/mine obsidian. The Mahks and Creators are human, but there are a number of mysteries that are not spelled out, such as exactly how the creation process works and why the Creators want obsidian. They are oppressive, live in luxury while their creations are literally starving, and keep the Mahk enslaved within the massive walls of their prison. The world is populated with creatures both baleful and benign, and magic exists, though it is not a high magic world. The technology level seems to be roughly medieval.

The story follows Araina, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and her quest to escape the Labyrinth. In the previous book, Araina and her companions believe they have escaped the Labyrinth, only to learn that there is more than one segment to this vast prison. Learning what the Labyrinth really is and the motives of the twisted Creators adds greatly to the enjoyment of the book. This book details the journey after Segment One (as portrayed in The Labyrinth Wall) into and within Segment Two and ultimately into Segment Three. Segment Two is a great swamp with lots of dangerous flora and fauna. Humans are a danger, too. There are villagers present whom I believe would be termed Mahk made by the Creators, and many of these support the Creators, making for a difficult setting for a group of escaped slaves labelled enemies of the state. Finally, the Creators themselves are actively pursuing the group, so this book has a great edge-of-your-seat feel to it in places. The combination of mystery, evocative description, and the twisting plot makes for a wonderful story.

My favourite feature of the story is the characterization. The companions all have strong and identifiable personalities. The history of some of the characters is not fully known, which provides an interesting conflict (in the literary sense) as the characters learn to deal with the unknown in each other as well as providing a goal for the characters as some of these mysteries are unknown to them—another positive quality of the author to craft an interesting novel. But she doesn’t stop there—the characters also have to deal with one another’s known and manifest qualities, too, which is always a challenge for a group of widely divergent persons as is present in this grouping. Girdner has taken the time to keep speech patterns and apparent thought processes and beliefs consistent, and I appreciate this quality. The reader could tell who is speaking even if he weren’t identified. The interaction between characters is nicely done, with the result that the reader loves and hates, questions and accepts, and despairs and exults with them.

As I mentioned above, The Haunted Realm is the second in the Obsidian series, so you should read the first book in the series, The Labyrinth Wall, prior to reading this one for full enjoyment. Enough background material is provided so that a new reader could figure out what is happening, but why would a reader want to do that and miss out on a big chunk of the tale? I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA, dystopian-apocalyptic, fantasy, quest tales, adventure, a well-detailed setting with lots of mysterious places to explore, a book about survival in a holocaust-like world, or any mixture thereof. I am eagerly awaiting the next book.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 22, 2015 – Shelved

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