By: A.M. Dellamonica
Tor Books, Oct 2009, 320 pp. $19.50 CDN
Reviewed by: James Onusko
Vitagua and chantments – just two of the terms that will be new to most readers when they read Indigo Springs. Reading and reviewing in this genre, particularly contemporary fantastic literature, is not in my normal reviewing list. This novel held my attention, and added informed commentary on themes that many writers are not interested in discussing.
Author A.M. Dellamonica is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is a fantasy writer, photographer and writing instructor. This is her debut novel, although she has published numerous short stories; she displays vitality and creativity in crafting her narrative. Without question, she is ambitious in writing this first book, but for the most part, her skills match her obvious drive.
Indigo Springs follows a standard flashback structure. At times this may be confusing for some readers, but for the most part, Dellamonica is clear in moving the narrative forward. Although this is Dellamonica’s first book-length work, she has enough empathy and writing ability to appeal to both the hard-core fantasy readers and the general reader. While the novel could be read relatively quickly, the storyline combined with the number of characters that are woven into it, could overwhelm some readers. Reading it with care is recommended or you will run the risk of needing to revisit certain parts of it to keep things straight. Dellamonica broaches some universal themes of family, love, revenge and friendship while also touching on less-discussed themes, at least in much mainstream writing – bisexuality and same-sex relationships.
The novel opens with Astrid being held for questioning for some unspecified crimes by Will, an investigating officer. An acquaintance of Astrid’s, Sahara, along with a significant cult following, has been creating chaos around the country. The main setting for the novel is Indigo Springs and the house that Astrid has been bequeathed by her dead father. As the book progresses, readers learn, through the flashback sequences, that the house has been situated over the magic liquid ‘vitagua.’ Astrid’s father had used the liquid for magical purposes. The reader is taken on a journey with innumerable twists and turns – many of which are unpredictable and filled with peril for Astrid, Jacks, and Sahara.
In this particular excerpt Astrid recalls a pivotal moment in her life from childhood:
The next time she was alone in the house, Astrid went up to the attic. Remembering the flash of memory that struck when she’d been there earlier, she paced from corner to corner, fingers trailing the walls.
Lost memories tickled her like stray hairs, but nothing came through. Finally she knelt near the hatch, laying her hands flat where she’d touched the floor before.
Knowledge bled back: Albert had initiated her here when she was eight years old.
They had slipped away from Ma that day, as they so often did, supposedly to pick up shoes for school. She’d felt guilty about that, Astrid remembered now – the secrecy. Each lie made it worse. She had even asked Dad: what if I didn’t become the chanter? What if you picked someone else?
From my reading, the novel is not spectacular in any single facet. While some of her characters are well developed, there are a number of others that read as ‘flat’ and undeveloped throughout the novel – Will falls into this category. Additionally, magical vitagua, chantments and so forth simply may not appeal to some readers, particularly those that do not venture into the ‘fantastic’ genre on a regular basis. I commend Dellamonica for not taking the easiest route in the conclusion. Many readers will likely be surprised with where she takes readers and without question, she is brave in doing so. It does take some time for the novel to gain momentum so I would encourage readers to invest some time, even if they don’t find the opening chapters gripping. This Sunburst Award winner will not appeal to all, but I believe it is worth the time as long as you open yourself up to a world that you have not encountered previously. For fans of this first effort, you will be pleased to know that the sequel is being written.
*An advance copy of Indigo Springs was given to me to read and review. It was not purchased.