Andrew R. Hall
Bloomsbury , 2004. Paperback:
Suggested retail price: $17.95 (US)
Have I mentioned that some of the best literary work being doneby Mormons in the last five years has been for the Young Adultmarket? I believe I have, and here is more proof of it. Shannon Haledebuted last year with the very well-reviewed young adult fantasy novelThe Goose Girl, based loosely on one of the Grimm Brothers' stories.Enna Burning is kind of a sequel, set in Bayern, the same medieval-stylekingdom from The Goose Girl, and including several returning characters,although this time the protagonist is a commoner who was only a secondarycharacter in the first book.
The fantasy element is the ability of a very few characters to "speak"to and direct natural elements. Isi, the Princess-in-hiding protagonistof The Goose Girl, learned how to speak to wind, and Enna, the commonforest girl who befriended Isi in the first novel, learns how to speak to fire.
Enna's brother was the first to discover the magic words which taught fire,but he quickly lost control over his gift. When a neighboring kingdominvaded Bayern, the brother fought with the fire, but it overcame him, andhe was roasted alive. Enna decides she must also learn the magic in orderto save the kingdom, but tries to put limits on how she uses it, to avoidthe monstrous acts his brother committed, and to save her own life. Eachtime she uses the fire, however, she becomes more addicted to its power,and less able to control her actions.
And that is just the start. Enna is just one of a series of wonderfully drawn characters--others include Isi (the princess), a quickly maturing romanticinterest, and a dangerous, smooth-talking enemy soldier. Hale writes ina very clean, eloquent style. The central plot device, although perhaps abit derivative from The Lord of the Rings, serves as a powerful engine to the plot. There are obvious parallels to the perils of addiction. Hale's descriptions of the slide from careful experimentation to outright addiction are very finely crafted, and appear very realistic. She describes Enna's fire lust in almost sexual terms, in particular the intense but short-lived relief Enna experiences each time she gives in to her urges.
Not to say that the work is explicit at all, I would very happily recommend the novel to all middle school and above readers. Hale's portrayal of war alsosuccessfully tread a fine line, communicating the horror of the experience,without going into grisly detail. Hale is a real talent.
Andrew Hall November 30, 2004
© 2004 Andrew Hall