by Terrance McArthur
It used to be that you could trust writers. If somebody wrote romances, their next book would have a handsome, brooding hero and a stunning young woman in a torrid tale of lust. Horror writers could be depended on to do their best to scare the daylights out of you and give you sleepless nights. Then—things changed.
Anne Rice abandoned her vampires and witches to explore the life of Jesus of Nazareth. John Grisham came out with the Theodore Bloom: Kid Lawyer series for children. In this world of follow-the-bouncing-author, the readers can’t be sure of what they’re getting when they pick up their favorite author’s latest book.
A number of these crossover writers have discovered the children’s and Young Adult fields. Case in point: The Finisher, by David Baldacci.
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Instead of the expected gritty political thriller, Baldacci has delivered a dystopian fantasy for the YA crowd.
Vega Jane is a finisher, decorating nice things in the Stacks factory of Wormwood. She has never been outside of Wormwood—nobody has, because the town is surrounded by the Quag, a forest filled with monsters…and worse things. Nobody enters the Quag…until Vega Jane sees the other finisher, her mentor, go into the forest…being chased.
Not only has Quentin Herms gone where no one would go, he has left the girl clues to puzzle out, clues that lead her to magical objects, help her discover powers within her, and put her into conflict with the rulers of Wormwood.
Baldacci has filled his world with familiar YA plot devices: a world built on lies (The City of Ember, Matched), enchanted help (pick a Harry Potter book), and a sibling lured away by dangerous adversaries (A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Nevertheless, he manages to place a unique twist on familiar ideas.
There are also elements that surprise and delight. A faithful friend who is despised by others turns out to have a good reason for his disability, rooted in the deceptions of Wormwood.
Baldacci peppers his prose with word substitutions (a day is a light, a man is a male, a second is a sliver, a school is a Learning) and made-up creatures (Jabbits, anyone?). Maybe future editions will include a lexicon, like the Ape-English dictionary at the back of Tarzan of the Apes.
Vega Jane is one of those protagonists that overcome obstacles that have never been overcome until she comes along. Put her in a no-rules fighting tournament against men and boys bigger and stronger than she is, and you know what will happen, but you probably won’t know how.
The Finisher is the first book of a series, so don’t expect all the answers or an ending. The Finisher is a beginning.
Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.