Initiate: The Unfinished Song, Book One by Tara Maya

Initiate is first in a fantasy series that tells a fairy tale that’s wide in scope and deep in mystery and myth. The fifth book in the series, Wing, came out this month, and I participated in its blog tour. One thing that makes the series unique is that instead of the medieval setting so common to fantasy novels, Maya chose a neolithic, or Stone Age setting. Instead of swords, warriors carry bows and spears. The world feels newer, younger, closer to its magical origins. Fairies are all around, mischievous, interfering, and sometimes fearsome. Though the information on Stone Age technology and society is surely accurate, Maya thankfully doesn’t get bogged down in her research like another writer who focuses on that time period.

The story follows several characters, switching among them, and building a mythology and a magic-riddled world around them and their societies. The biggest flaw in the series so far is the tendency for the many characters to get muddled and confused in the reader’s mind, but I’ll take my share of the responsibility for that. I have no doubt that plunging further into the world and letting go of the shreds of disbelief that hinder all enjoyment of fantasy writing would allow the reader a perfect understanding of the plot and its twists and turns. Dindi, the primary protagonist, is the initiate of the title. She has ambitions to become a Tavaedi, a sort of priestess, dancing with the fairies, and must undergo a rite of passage to prove her talent and worth. Brena, who wants her two daughters to join the Tavaedi as well, reminded me of a pageant mom, coaching them in their dance practices. Kavio, exiled from his people, travels friendless through the wilderness. War rages between the tribes and interferes with the initiation trial, endangering all the young people.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the prose in the novel. The sentences are rich in description, fitting for the strange and beautiful world they create. But then I shouldn’t have been so surprised: Maya’s blog is full of great tips for writers, so she kind of knows what she’s doing. The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, like many series novels. It doesn’t feel like a cheap trick, as cliffhangers sometimes do, since enough of the key questions of the narrative were resolved. The ending is satisfying, while inspiring readers to pick up the next volume.

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