THE WAKING LAND has a great high fantasy feel, but could use a little more development.
The Waking Land by Callie Bates is, in some ways, a coming-of-age book set in a magical world. The plot revolves around the first person narration of Elanna Valtai, an ambitious and curious rebel’s daughter who has been prisoner of King Antoine since she was young.
Elanna (or El) is the daughter of Ruadan, a man working to overthrow the current monarchy. Ruadan is of the belief that King Antoine came to rule unjustly, and that the crown should be given back to the rightful heir. Honestly, the entire thing feels very Game Of Thrones, particularly Daenerys trying to get the throne back from the Baratheons (and later the Lannisters). After Ruadan’s plans go astray, a six-year old Elanna finds herself with a pistol held to her head, and King Antoine holding it. The real plot begins fourteen years later, with El having grown up and lived her life at Antoine’s Castle. Despite this, the little we see and hear of their relationship feels closer to that of ward and protector than prisoner and provost.
Much like many young adults in today’s society, El’s thoughts and opinions of the world have been shaped by the environment she was raised in and the people she was raised by. El has grown to resent her father, angry that he never rescued her from imprisonment. She finds her father’s rebellion foolish and useless, and thinks that the man who Ruadan wishes to be king is an imbecile. The most complicated learned behavior is the innate fear of the witch hunters, people who seek out those who possess magic, and torture them to insanity.
The death of King Antoine, acting as the inciting incident of the story, happens very early, which has both merits and faults. On the one hand, it’s always nice to not have a dragged out exposition, but on the other, it feels like we didn’t have enough time to truly establish a relationship with the protagonist. We didn’t have adequate time to know El’s life, and therefore it felt hard to understand the change that occurred because of King Antoine’s death.
Due to the cause of death being poisoning, the fact that El is the botanist’s apprentice combined with the lineage leads suspicion to immediately be thrown on her. With the help of a few allies, El flees persecution, and ends up reunited with her father.
From here, the plot gets complicated, and, honestly, confusing. This seems to be a trend throughout the book– complications and confusion. While the story does have an interesting and nuanced plot, it can feel hard to keep up with.
Additionally, El’s magic feels rather ambiguous and undefined. This is understandably often the nature of magic, however there aren’t many confines or established understandings or rules to the magic of the world.
El herself was an interesting and somewhat dynamic character, especially as she grew and matured through the story. Growing up in theatre, I always mark the quality of a character by their arc and journey, and El definitely grew from the spoiled and cloistered child to a young woman with ownership and responsibility. I do think that El’s growth felt rushed in some places, and her emotions were ping-ponging at an unnatural speed. El also embraced her role as the caveadear (another confusing concept itself) extremely quickly, and the storytelling began reminding us incessantly that she was the caveadear, and that it was a big deal.
The relationships, both familial and romantic, that El had also felt rushed, and the dialogue often felt superficial, as though the words were what someone should say, as opposed to what someone would say organically. This is most prevalent in the scene where El reunites with her mother. This scene could have been emotionally charged, a mother and daughter reuniting for the first time in 15 years, however, it felt awkward. And not the good, honest kind of awkward that makes a story feel real and authentic, but a forced, unrealistic kind of awkward.
Ultimately, the world that Callie Bates created is interesting and captivating, but I believe that it would benefit from some slowing down, and delving deeper into the characters and the plot, in order to clarify the story.
I believe it is worth mentioning that Bates, likely unintentionally, created some strange parallels between El and Morgana from Arthurian legend, especially as she is portrayed in the BBC show Merlin. Both are characters that are Wards to the king, living in a castle where they don’t fit in. Both Kingdoms outlaw magic, and the punishment for those who practice magic is dire. Both slowly realize their power, and initially fear it and smother it, but ultimately grow to appreciate and relish it. That is about where the parallels end, but I felt it was worth noting.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.
Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.
But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.