Questors

Questors

Questors was written by Joan Lennon and first published in 2007. It is a science-fiction / fantasy novel suitable for middle graders and young teens which is set in a world where three very different Earths exist on top of each other. The novel reads a little like the first part of a series but, at the time of writing, no further installments have been announced.

The three parallel worlds – Trentor, Kir and Dalrodia – have always existed harmoniously, sharing the same point in space and time and linked only by the mysterious London House. However, a leak has formed in the energy that keeps these worlds in balance. If left unplugged, this will cause the three worlds to drift further and further apart until they are destroyed altogether.

Unable to repair the damage themselves, the Prelates charged with maintaining the balance order the creation of three heroes – born from one mother but each embodying the essence of one of the worlds. When they come of age, these heroes will be charged with venturing into the future of each world to find a mystical artefact. Only with these can the Prelates stop the leak.

However, unbeknownst to the Prelates, an evil villain has tampered with the design and caused the three heroes to develop imperfections. To make matters worse, the worlds begin to divide much faster than originally calculated, causing the Prelates to have to call on their heroes when they are still only children. Without any explanation as to what is expected of them, Madlen, Bryn and Cam are sent off on their quest. If they fail, everyone in the three worlds is doomed.

You may be able to see some flaws with Questors from this summary alone but I think it’s only fair to start with the good.

Questors is a very creative novel which brims with unique ideas. Trentor, Kir and Dalrodia are all very different worlds and the Questors visit each of them in turn. Because of this, the novel is more like three stories in one. While the purpose for visiting each world is to find the magical object, each are approached as a unique adventure with the identity of the artefact only being revealed at the end of the arc. Because of this the story was more of an episodic adventure which followed the children on their adventure across the worlds.

Trentor is a world that favours logic above anything else. Mathematics there is so advanced that it is almost like magic, with people using computer code to alter reality. Kir has two dominant species – humans that wage endless war games against each other and dragons that have their own separate society, completely removed from the humans. Dalrodia is possibly the most interesting world as it is a society that restructures itself based around the prophetic dreams of the upper class. The general feel of these worlds is akin to a modern Gulliver’s Travels, which each of the worlds satirising aspects of our own world, emphasising the ridiculousness of certain schools of thought.

Any one of these worlds could have easily been expanded to fill an entire novel and if they had, perhaps Questors would have felt like less of a jumbled mess on the whole. Unfortunately, Lennon instead only devotes about seventy pages to each world and therefore only scratches their surfaces. The children are whisked through them at a breakneck pace, never stopping to give more than the sparsest of information about anything they come across. Because of this, the worlds (particularly Trentor) came across as being very colourless and unmemorable.

The pacing issues of the novel spread far beyond this. The opening chapters of the story thrust Madlen, Bryn and Cam together without giving the reader any time to get to know them individually and then packs them off to Trentor without explaining the nature of their quest. While the story does come together in the final act, I was initially really lost as to what the Prelates hoped to achieve by sending off three completely inexperienced agents and why it absolutely had to be them when they had dozens of trained operatives at their beck and call.

Lennon has a real problem with explaining anything within her novel. Characters had a terrible habit of starting to reveal things before dropping the subject mid-sentence and never picking it up again (‘Why exactly…’ Dagrod began, but then ‘No, don’t tell me! Time to go’). This very quickly made for frustrating reading. It’s okay to string your readers along a little in order to build suspense but novels quickly become boring when authors refuse to reveal anything at all. I can appreciate that the intent was to keep the reader as in the dark as the Questors but, at the end of the day, I couldn’t really understand why it was necessary to keep the Questors entirely in the dark either.

This was not helped by the way that the narrative jumped between characters. While the focus was usually with the Questors, sometimes it would randomly jump to another group. Sometimes this was Mrs Mac or other characters in London House, sometimes it was the villain and sometimes it was just to utterly random minor characters. These transitions were jarring and usually added very little to the story.

Characterisation in the novel was also very weak. None of the Questors received any real character growth, despite a major plot point being how they had all been corrupted by the villain. Only Bryn noticeably showed any traits that set him apart from his ultra-masculine race as he liked to draw (which is apparently effeminate). Neither Cam nor Madlen showed any unique characteristics beyond the fact that Madlen was a bit uptight and obsessed with rules while Cam was, well, an it.

This is possibly the thing that grated with me the most and it could well just be a personal gripe. Cam belongs to a race of people who are genderless until they hit puberty and subconsciously chose what they are most suited to. As Cam technically was genderless, the author assigned them the personal pronoun “it”. While I will cut the author a little slack as Cam belongs to a fictional race, there are many different ways to refer to a person in gender-neutral terms and “it” is never an option. It reduces the subject to nothing more than an object or something sub-human (this is made especially clear in the novel in the horrible sentence “Mrs Mac patted it on the head like a clever dog”). It just sounds dreadfully insulting and made me grimace every time it was used.

The secondary cast in the novel were also very shallow. I just didn’t get Mrs Mac. I couldn’t figure out what role she played in London House as she seemed to have far too much power to just be the housekeeper. Kate also really needed to have some more character development. The Prelates forced her to have three children and then abandon them to foster families. This is horrific and yet is entirely downplayed. Why was this act alone not a major plot point? Everyone seems to just accept what was happened. Her superiors ordered her to get pregnant. Three times. And then took all her children from her. Why do all the characters have no ethical issue with this?

Finally there was the villain, referred to for most of the story as the Preceptor. I’m not going to spoil anything for you here but let’s just say that their climatic moment was a bit of a let-down. There was not a single hint within the story as to what the Preceptor’s true identity was and their motivation for destroying the entire Universe was virtually non-existent. I love a strong villain but, unfortunately, Questors was unable to deliver.

So, to conclude, there were some nice ideas buried deep within this novel but, unfortunately, Questors was a horrible mess. The story flowed too quickly, nothing was explained early on, massive ethical dilemmas were left unaddressed, the characters were flat and the villain’s plan left a lot to be desired. I’m kind of glad that this novel has no sequels because I’m not sure I could stand to read another one. I don’t know how this novel reflects on the rest of Joan Lennon’s work but I’m not really in any hurry to find out either.

Questors can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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