Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner surprised me. The cover and the blurb led me to assume it would be a fairly stock-standard and and unoriginal read and I put off starting it a little bit.

But I was wrong, and it was evident from the first few pages. Danika became a street kid after losing her parents at the age of eleven. For reasons that we only begin to understand in this first book, the King enjoys bombing some of his subjects to keep them in their place. They're not ordinary bombs, however, they're alchemy bombs which can cause all sorts of weird and unpleasant things to happen on impact (y'know, as well as killing people). After hearing about a group of teenagers planning to escape the city for the fabled and safe Magnetic Valley, Danika falls in with them and the bulk of the story is about their dangerous journey south to the Valley.

The level of technology (albeit mostly alchemy-powered) brought to mind a cross between steampunk and fantasy. There are trains and biplanes (see cover) but also a lot of riding beasts of burden to get around. The beasts, called foxaries and basically giant foxes, were possibly one of my favourite bits of world-building — I want one! But they win by a small margin since Melki-Wegne's world is detailed and consistent. The explanation of the magic system is well woven into the text without info dumps as are many of the customs of the people. The only thing that struck me as odd and a smidge implausible is the taboo against teenagers revealing their magical proclivities before they turn eighteen. Their magic declares itself with tattoos on their necks and the custom is to keep their necks covered up until their eighteenth birthdays. Danika describes revealing her neck prematurely as akin to walking around naked. Which is well and good, but I can't help but feel that a lot of nefarious people wouldn't care much about the taboo and I didn't think that aspect was explored sufficiently.

Chasing the Valley is an excellent tale of growing friendship and camaraderie. In some ways it's a traditional journey type story but Melki-Wegner brings enough originality to the table (in worldbuilding and so forth) to make it stand out. Her writing is polished and, as I said, I could tell as soon as I started that I was in for a good read. I'm glad I read this and I am very much looking forward to the rest of the series. This book is a cut above a lot of the YA renditions of high/epic fantasy I've come across.

I highly recommend Chasing the Valley to fantasy fans of both the adult and YA parts of the genre. If you're in any doubt about reading this, I suggest having a look at a sample to help make up your mind. As this début is so strong, I expect we'll see many more good things from the author in the future.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2013, Random House AU
Series: Yes. Book one of three
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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