Format: Hardcover (ARC) | Genre: Fantasy | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: July 3rd 2014 | My rating: 5/5
TWO BOYS, WORLDS AND CENTURIES APART
In a time of magic, a penniless boy named Matyas runs away to the Academy of Wizards to pursue his dream – to discover the secret of flying. Along the way he will become the greatest Master of his age, only to lose everything.
In the modern day, Simon Wisdom struggles to hide his psychic abilities while his father Jack lives in fear that those powers will destroy his son. But nothing can stop Simon from hearing the cries of dead children pleading for his help.
Matyas and Simon will never meet. But they are bound together, for only their combined strength can hope to overcome the monster that haunts existence itself – the Child Eater.
Sometimes I think fantasy novels are like summer movies. Larger than life, full of spectacle and character chemistry and humour. Unabashed romps that seem to last no time at all and leave you thoroughly excited. Sometimes, though, they’re more like the kind of thing you enjoy on your own, curled up somewhere cosy and quiet with your tea (or coffee, I’m not judging) and a whole night of nothing else happening to enjoy it in. Both types are equally awesome, if you ask me. The Child Eater is the second kind of awesome. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been thinking on it for a few days and it’s still hard to come up with such a book I’ve enjoyed more.
As the blurb explains, this novel tells the story of two boys whose lives could not be further apart. Literally separated by different worlds, they grow up at different rates, have entirely different life experiences (Matyas is born dirt poor and fights to make his own way to something better and to learn magic, while Simon’s life is comfortable, if difficult because of his supernatural gift) and could not be more different from each other, personality-wise.
Matyas is clever, proud and ambitious, and these things get him all the way from his life as the abused son of an innkeeper to the Academy of Wizards where he learns his craft. Simon is a quiet child, clever with his natural gift for telepathy until he is convinced by his father that he should never use it, that it’s wrong to do so. He’s generally kinder than Matyas, though he becomes troubled by his learned fear of what he can do.
They know absolutely nothing of each other and never will, but the way in which their lives, their purposes, are linked is the thread in the tapestry of this story that Rachel Pollack weaves with so much expert skill that, even though there’s not a single bit of flash or bang to be found here, it still left me amazed.
She doesn’t go into deep detail about how magic works in Matyas’s world. In fact there’s relatively little worldbuilding done there at all – because what matters isn’t the world Matyas lives in. It’s Matyas himself. He grows into adulthood obsessed with using his skill at magic to one end – he wants to learn to fly. Convinced that the secret is out there despite being told repeatedly that it’s impossible, this obsessive desire shapes him as a young man. He’s smart, but he’s also proud and foolish and, on more than one occasion, proven to be quite selfish. There’s a definite dark side to Matyas that’s largely absent in Simon.
Not that Simon is perfect. He tries to be a good son for his father’s sake, but the struggle he faces to suppress what he can do naturally leads him into trouble. While Matyas searches his world over for the secret he seeks, Simon is trying to shut his power out, to keep it locked up and ignore it. Neither of them has an easy time, but regardless of their personal struggles, there’s the Inevitable Confrontation looming at the end of the story for both of them…
Pollack may not have gone for extensive worldbuilding, but the mythology she creates within this story is impressive enough to offset it, and then some. Namely, the story of the Child Eater himself, the dark and seriously creepy monster who threatens both their worlds and, on a more intimate level, their fates. Both Matyas and Simon have an important choice to make by the end, but what makes this story so intriguing is the journey that both of them go on, the trials they face, before coming to this crucial point. They will inevitably face their fates, but it doesn’t happen a moment too soon.
Indeed, Pollack’s mastery of this kind of storytelling left me almost too impressed for words – this review is several days in the writing and I still feel like I’m fishing for the right words, here!
Basically, if you’re looking for the ‘summer blockbuster’ kind of story here, you might be disappointed. However, if you want something quieter that packs the same amount of punch, overall, then The Child Eater is one of this year’s Do Not Miss books. Five stars, and it earns every one of them.