Monday, March 10, 2014
The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, by John Claude Bemis
I have a Marveous Middle-Grade Monday selection this week! It's a post-apocalyptic novel for younger readers, with an intriguing premise: humans have managed to wipe themselves out completely, and nature has reclaimed planet Earth. A bear named Casseomae lives in a Forest ruled by wolves—who claim they are the ones to get rid of the Skinless Ones* many years ago. Then a sky ship crashes in Casseomae's meadow, and a Skinless cub climbs out of the wreckage. Casseomae has never had a cub of her own, and against her better judgement she protects the young Skinless One from the wolves.
The Prince Who Fell from the Sky could have been trite, heavy-handed and cartoonish, but instead it is nuanced and believable, with great character interactions. The animal characters are brilliantly drawn: Casseomae reluctantly teams up with a rat named Dumpster—a viand, that a vora like Casseomae would normally never speak to—and Dumpster's attitudes, speech patterns, beliefs, quirks are all definitively rat-like, just as Casseomae sounds and thinks like a bear, and the wolves, coyotes and dogs are all equally distinct in their culture and characteristics. It's also wonderful how the character of the Skinless One comes across without him ever saying a word that we can understand (he, of course, can't speak vora).
Casseomae's quest to find a place her adopted cub can be safe is a fascinating journey through a convincing world. The animal enmities and alliances are well crafted; their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Old Devils* and their relics is both humorous and telling. Each character has sympathetic motivations: even the wolf Ogeema is only trying to protect the Forest, and Cassaomae herself is conflicted about the wisdom of protecting one who could turn out to be as dangerous and destructive as the rest of his kind.
Bemis does have a message to convey, but he is subtle and thoughtful about it. There is no easy right and wrong; there are only the choices each character makes based on what they value most.
This was a fun read with humour and adventure that was also deeply moving and beautiful. Cassaomae gets added to my list of favourite characters, and Bemis is an author I want to read more of.
My grandmother's crispy-chewy oatmeal coconut cookies.
*That would be us humans. (It's always salutary to see one's kind from a different perspective. One of the great uses of sci fi.)
For more marvelous middle-grade books to choose from, head to Shannon Messenger's lovely blog every Monday.