Title: The Unfettered Child
Author: Michael C. Sahd
Publication date: August 28, 2019
Summary: Samara may only be 8, but powerful magic rests in her body. It is peaceful, until the women of her tribe are captured and elves invade and begin to slaughter her people. Thinking herself the only survivor, and with no memory of what she did, she sets out to try to find her mother. She is guided by a voice in her head that instructs her in magic and guides her way. Meanwhile, Samara’s father, Orin, survived the slaughter as he had already set out in search for his wife. With the only remaining son of the tribe’s leader at his side, they track the elves who took the women. But the elves have dark intentions, as does the voice in Samara’s head.
I really wanted to love this book. It has a tribal element I haven’t encountered in fantasy before, seemingly drawing from Native American cultures. The story flowed well with the characters and plot working together to tell a coherent story of one family and one tribe seeking reunification above all else. I was also intrigued by the lead character being a young child. Usually, I only see that age in children’s books, but this is not a children’s book. Unfortunately, while all the elements for a great fantasy were there, they fell just a little short.
The world was intriguing. I loved the tribal aspects, and could almost believe Samara’s people were out on the plains of North America instead of a fantasy world. It was well-imagined, but the places outside of that locale felt a little lacking. There were the standard forest, beach, and towns, but nothing really stood out to me. Interestingly, Sahd seemingly drew inspiration from not just Native American cultures, but also European, Russian, and the Roma cultures. It was a fascinating mix, but could have used more development. Instead of adding richness to the world and story with depth and history, it felt more like it was laid over the story for the sake of adding a bit of color, but I struggled with seeing how it really impacted the story.
Similarly, I enjoyed the characters, but they, too, could have used more development. I liked that Samara was the lead character. The story worked because it’s primarily from the viewpoint of a young child. However, she was very one note. Even though she’s a child, I expected her to grow and mature as the lead character. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Instead, I felt she cried a bit too much just to get out of tough situations. I loved Orin, though. He felt real, just like a husband and father who had lost his family. He was strong and stable, and I believed him. The elves as a whole were wonderfully manipulative and really added color and complexity to the story. Overall, they were fantastic, and probably the best parts of the story.
The one thing that really bothered me, though, was the writing. It felt very plain and very straightforward with lots of repetition. Word choices and sentence structures lacked complexity, even when the story wasn’t being told from Samara’s perspective. When it came to her, I could forgive it a little, but, when the narration was from the perspective of an older character, I expected a little more maturity. However much it made the narrative consistent, it also made it a little difficult to follow and remember whose perspective the story was currently being told from. It was almost as though every character came from the same history and perspective, making the narrative a little monotonous.
As a whole, this isn’t a bad story. It’s interesting and different with an intriguing world and generally enjoyable characters. It hits the right notes in fantasy with a fantastical world, elves, and magic. At the same time, it lacks polish, depth, and development. This has the potential to be a rich story, but I feel like much of it was sacrificed for the sake of telling the story in a simple way. Not great, but not terrible, though the mix of cultures and the strong tribal elements was a nice touch.
How many cups of tea will you need?
3 cups should do just fine
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Thank you so much to the author, Michael C. Sahd, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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