[written by Jay Paulin of Ink’d Well Comics]
Philip David Hogan’s debut novel, The Weeping Tree Chronicles: Book One – Believe (Darkwater Publishing, 2011) is a lot of things: a teenaged hero’s journey (think The Goonies meets The Lord of the Rings), an emotional drama and a fantasy epic. It often soars, occasionally stumbles yet consistently entertains. It’s not perfect – and I believe (heh) it may suffer from its young adult trappings – but it’s a very solid novel and well worth your time.
The events get started with an unnamed girl dreamily wandering about a wooded area. Was it a nightmare? Why did elements seem familiar? Who was responsible for her attack? Light tension and good usage of psychological horror set the stage for what’s to come.
When the pre-teen heroes of this story gather at the usual meeting spot, one is missing: the girl from the prologue, perhaps? With a MacGuffin in place, they set about an adventure that shatters their concept of the world. Summoned by The Great Witch, the youths must travel to The Unbetween – a place we go when we’re no longer ‘needed’ on Earth. There, the god-like immortal, Kharon, has sucked the life out of the world in his unending quest for power. The Great Witch explains their friend’s – and The Unbetween’s – only hope is to defeat him and restore order.
The book clocks in at approximately 400 pages and the plot is a good, if not incredible, spin on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. The true strength of this book is in its characters. These are no mere archetypes but well-rounded characters with arcs of their own. Joshua Beckett, the strong leader, and his adventurous (and three-minutes-younger) twin sister, Ella, have a well-written dynamic between them. The gentle spirit, Raevyn Odessa, bears a heavy load upon her soul. Jack Scarlett – the smart-mouthed trickster – and Daniel Roberts – the wise-beyond-his-years meekling – are both great characters as well. They may bicker a little too much, but that’s probably realistic now that I think about it.
In addition to these humans-out-of-water and the aforementioned Great Witch, we meet a bevy of creatures: gargoyles, vampires and wayward souls, oh my. And that’s just in the first half!
Hogan has a strong grasp of the written word and is effective at pacing his story. The world is vast and the author’s love of stories shines through. In addition to the comparison above, I’d wager this story appeals to fans of the award-winning comics, Fables, The Unwritten and The Sandman.
Despite its depth and attention to detail, this is no textbook and the young adult tag is well placed. Unfortunately, I believe it also limits Hogan’s abilities: I would love to read a mature readers’ tale by him to really see how he writes when the gloves are off. I felt that, at times, things were repetitious and moved slower as the author waited for younger readers to catch up. I never felt insulted, merely a tad frustrated. A trimming of approximately 50 too-expository-for-their-own-good pages and an elevation in the reading level would boost this book to even greater heights.
Not bad for a first try, eh? I’m noticing a trend from these Newfoundland authors: solid debuts in exciting series across a range of genres. Consider this a call to the rest of Canada. 4/5