A Telling Of Stars by Caitlin Sweet (Penguin), 326 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
fuelled by the protagonist's thirst for revenge and her desire to move faster than despair, Caitlin Sweet's first novel shapes a fast-moving plot that's in constant motion. A Telling Of Stars, a successful blend of ancient folklore and science fiction, takes off when young Jaele watches a band of Sea Raiders murder her entire family. Devastated and alone, she vows to chase down the killer, who, it turns out, was forced to slit her mother's throat and then shunned for his reluctance.
The murder itself mirrors the childhood folk tale Jaele and her brother told each other of the heroic Queen Galha, who eventually banished the evil Sea Raiders.
On Jaele's travels, she meets strangers who feed and clothe her, expecting nothing in return, and lives with several communities, including mysterious fish-folk who live beneath the sea and Tree Ilga, who live high in the branches.
Through the highly fantastic tale, Sweet sets out to explore the personal response to tragedy that can lead to murder, hatred and war. Another underlying theme is the way overly cherished traditions can intensify a community's fear of outsiders.
Sweet is a breathless storyteller. Just when the dynamics between Jaele and supporting characters get interesting, Jaele rushes off again in pursuit of the Sea Raider. She's a marathon runner, racing through life-defining moments so quickly that the most interesting plot twists have to be discarded.
This novel has an epic quality. It's impossible for Sweet to resolve all the many subplots in the space of one book. It feels a little like any number of Hollywood movies these days - there's an infinite amount of sequel material here.
ATOS 2 would totally not be a stretch.