Sunday, April 30, 2006

Review: Anatopsis

Chris Abouzeid's Anatopsis is one of the most original fantasy novels I've read in a long time. Moreover, Anatopsis is a beautifully written novel, and one with multiple levels of meaning.

Anatopsis Solomon, or Ana, is an immortal princess. Her mother rules her home, her family, and Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation with an iron hand. When Ana nears her thirteenth birthday, her mother has more than a few surprises in store. First, Ana is to begin preparing for her Bacchanalian exams and a new teacher will arrive shortly. And, she learns she will have a new classmate, Prince Barnaby Georges, the son of the rival (and only) castle.

Ana does have comfort in all this upheaval, however. She has a close friend, a mortal girl named Clarissa, who is supposed to look after Ana, but mostly reads the books in the castle library. Clarissa, as a mortal, can not learn magic and, because she is highly intelligent, resents the immortals. Ana also has her father, the kindly Sir Christopher, a knight-errant, who travels on frequent rescue missions. Ana thinks she'll ride this storm out like previous ones, but when her teacher arrives, it becomes clear she was wrong.

Mr. Pound causes an icy chill when he enters a room, his words command Ana's ears to listen, and Clarissa can find no mention of his name in magical books and records. And, Ana's father has been sent away on a knight-errant job. Soon the kids (and Barnaby's dog, Uno) are off on a mission--to find out who Mr. Pound is and what he's up to. Their quest leads them to the dungeons where hollowed-out bodies and book smugglers are found.

I'm not going to tell you what happens, but I will tell you about some of the more interesting aspects of Anatopsis. First of all, every spell the immortals cast causes a side-effect, a metallic slag called athen. The mortals live in a ghetto where nothing grows, including animals, because of the environmental impact of the athen. Second, Ana's relationship with Clarissa, her mortal friend, is a complicated one. Clarissa, while she loves Ana, has loyalties to her community and believes what the immortals have done is unjust and cruel.

Anatopsis deals with class, environmental disaster, the nature of family and friendships. I highly recommend it to readers ages nine and up and it goes on my Favorites of 2006.

Check out Michele's (of Scholar's Blog) review of Anatopsis at The Edge of the Forest. Michele will also interview Chris Abouzeid for the May edition of the Forest. Also, Jen Robinson recently reviewed Anatopsis at Jen Robinson's Book Page.