This is a surprisingly cute and interesting take on a dystopian fantasy that is almost perfect for MG readers. I say almost because with the characters ages, I believe the author wanted this to be a YA fantasy, but with how the main character, Franklin, views the world and just the sheer whimsy of the mages, warlocks, oceanus, were-panthers, and how the limitations of the magic system and classes aren’t well defined, and are kind of left up to the gods, I think this makes for a much better middle grade book, so that’s how I’m rating it. “Zarmina and the Book of Oceans” is the first in the series, so it spends a good portion of the book introducing the reader to this new world, and why humans live on the star-side—aka, in the frozen dark—of this planet, and why the evil warlock, Javan, has banished them to such a harsh place.
This coming-of-age tale centers on Franklin and a prophecy that a legendary mage-warrior race will return to Zarmina and end Javan’s tyranny. In the process, they will return balance and peace to Zarmina, with humans returning to the sun-side of the planet, or that’s the hope, anyway. Franklin has grown up completely isolated from others of his race, so when his parents are murdered, he finds himself adrift in a strange land where everything is new and complicated to young Franklin. Despite how the story starts and a few instances of battles, the violence is pretty minor and not overly graphic, so I don’t think a younger reader would be troubled by it. There is also no swearing, and the romance is both sweet and very innocent. The people and characters Franklin meets all have their unique quirks—especially the professor—that I think a younger reader would have a blast getting to know them, but perhaps not so much a YA reader for it may come off as just kind of silly. Still, I found the world and creatures, as well as the plight humankind finds themselves to be in, to be rather original and I enjoyed the world of Zarmina and how Franklin experiences it for pretty much the first time.
My biggest issue with the book, and why I didn’t rate it higher, was because of where the first book ends. Don’t get me wrong, plenty was accomplished, but the main thing they set out to do will have to wait until the next book(s)—which I won’t specify to avoid spoilers. There are also some very big moments that get kind of glossed over and I would have enjoyed having those conflicts given more of the attention they deserved, instead of spending time watching Franklin learn, essentially, the game of hockey. Additionally, the version I had contained several consistent errors. Normally I wouldn’t mention it, but as they were numerous enough to really notice, and I do think the core story is great for younger readers, I don’t want them to pick up some bad writing habits. The errors aren’t all that bad all things considered, but the amount of them—again, at least in my version—was a little disheartening. Additionally, while the romance is rather cute, it moves really, really fast. I’d have enjoyed more build up, but, again, that may make this a much more enjoyable read for an MG audience, especially as Franklin feels, and acts, so much younger than 16 even with growing up in isolation.
Despite the errors and my issues with the ending and how some of the larger conflicts were handled, I did really enjoy this book. I thought the adventure, and how Franklin grows and evolves over the course of the story was a lot of fun, and I thought the approach Anderson took with world building was fresh in a crowded fantasy market. So, even though I am giving this book 3.5 stars, I’m happily rounding up and can’t wait to see where Franklin goes from here! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review.
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