THE VYNE: MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN EMBER
Young Adult Fantasy
Two Harbors Press
Received via Teen Book Scene
Asher Meadows has spent the whole of his young life in one little town. Fearful and resentful of the special gifts he possesses, he dreams of leaving his lush of a father behind and finding a place to belong no matter how unlikely that dream seems.
Fate has other plans for Asher though, and as soon as young, amnesiac Scar shows up, irreversible events are set in motion that reveal Ash to be a vital part of an ancient prophecy regarding the fate of the world. As a vicious enemy begins to execute his plan for the transformation of all humanity into a drone army, Ash and company set off in search of the Hidden Ember, the first piece of the prophecy's puzzle.
En route, they run into both friend and foe, and Ash struggles with his feelings for Scar as she's a wanted fugitive and a potential thief who no one trusts save him alone. Though unsure he's ready for his destiny, Ash fights for Scar and his friends, and discovers that understanding his abilities comes a very high cost.
The Vyne is a story for those who love a journey, where each page is another step forward along a path lined with mystical abilities, ancient prophecies, and bizarre creatures with constantly shifting allegiances depending on the price for their support. It's not a quick or light read, and we are weighed down, as we so often are with fantasy novels, with an intimidating amount of information and a large cast of characters all vying for our attention. The beginning is tedious and slow, and as with a physical puzzle, Mr. Walls starts his literary puzzle in the corners, building the foundation of the story and assembling the borders that will be our guides as we work inward piece by piece until everything aligns and the larger picture is finally revealed. In this case, however, we are not dealing with either a one hundred or even five hundred piece puzzle, but rather we find ourselves attempting one with thousands of pieces, our patience tested as we struggle to figure out how everything fits together, and we often need to step back to regain focus and shore up our resolve before continuing onward.
Once the beginning third of the story is behind us, the journey begins to pick up speed as Ash and his companions finally set forth on the mission that has been so meticulously outlined for us in the previous one hundred and fifty pages. Mr. Walls's world is incredibly imaginative and deeply complex, appealing to that part of us that craves the challenge of embracing and understanding the unfamiliar while keeping the wheels in our minds constantly in motion as we try to solve the various riddles surrounding Ash's curse and the destiny hidden from him for so long.
Though the story does begin to accelerate and we are transported from one fantastical location to the next, the relationship we form with the characters is lacking in intensity. Reluctant hero Ash often shows the immaturity that accompanies his young age, whining about a destiny he wants no part of and inexplicably pining for a girl who possesses few attractive traits. His affection for Scar is instant, and for how thoroughly all the other elements are explained–at times so much so as to be detrimental to the overall story–we are given no solid reason for her appeal other than she's someone new in a town so familiar to him. Additionally, several characters with whom we are relatively acquainted are killed with little fanfare, their sacrifices glossed over quickly as the entourage of Ash and his misfits moves ever closer to their destination. This story is one where the flesh and bone are thoroughly established, but the heart is regrettably missing, a noticeable vacancy for those of us who thrive on our emotional connection to the story and live for the individuals that make our hearts beat faster as they carry the intangible weight of our feelings with them every step they take.
The Vyne will surely appeal to lovers of fantasy who expect and appreciate a taxing and arduous voyage, and who revel in the sense of accomplishment of seeing the journey through to the very end. For those like myself who love a good adventure but not necessarily at the expense of those characters who are undertaking it, this story will be a bit of a challenge to muddle through. Mr. Walls is a talented writer and storyteller, but his strength appears to lie more in the creating of the world and the outlining of a prophecy than in the forging of delicate bonds between character and reader which, for me, are the most vital part of an engaging reading experience.