Tower in the Crooked Wood is a young adult fantasy novel by Paula Johanson, published by Bundoran Press. I’ve known Paula for a long time through SF Canada, and was pleased to have the opportunity to read her new book…and pleased that Bundoran Press, a very new publisher, is including young adult work in its line-up.
I was even more pleased, of course, to discover that I really enjoyed Tower in the Crooked Wood. It’s the story of Jenia, who is on a quest to find the wizard who spirited her away from her home while she slept and forced her to work for a day and a night building a tower. She survived, but the work killed her younger brother and caused her sister to miscarry.
Jenia’s journey takes her to a landscape that is recognizably that of Canada’s Vancouver Island, and a people clearly based on the First Nations people of that island (elements that make the book a particularly good fit for the B.C.-based Bundoran). She’s both attracted to and frustrated by them as she tries to find allies in her Quixotic effort to stop the wizard from continuing to brutally enslave people, snatched from their sleep all over the world.
Jenia picks up her own pursuers along the way, a soldier named Ronay and his troops, after she employs her horticultural and arborial skills in the service of a lord she passes along the way but then refuses the “offer” to stay there and continue to do so forever. Ronay wants her not only for his lord but as his bride, but he is, in his way, an honorable man, not a caricature of lust and brutality, which makes him a much more interesting foil (and eventual ally) of Jenia.
That not-quite-what-you-might expect relationship is typical of the book, and why I enjoyed it so much. It never does quite what the veteran (or even jaded) fantasy reader thinks it’s going to do; it takes unusual twists and turns and it’s peopled with characters who are definitely not out of central casting. Even the final climactic confrontation doesn’t play out quite as you might expect…but it’s fully satisfying.
Imaginative plot, evocative setting, memorable characters: they all weave together into a delightful fantastical tapestry rich enough for not only young readers, but readers of any age should enjoy.