August 1, 2007

Nancy Yi Fan

Swordbird (HarperCollins)

The precociousness of Swordbird's author (Fan was 11 when she wrote the book) is as appealing as its premise: a good vs. evil, fantasy action-epic set in a world of birdfolk who enslave, trash-talk and go to war with each other. Fan has such a lively, sharp imagination, evident in charming touches like the hot-air ballooning vaudeville troupe, or the way the good guys speak in quaint, spiffy wartime British, that you wish the rest of the book were better. Indistinctive secondary characters tumble in and out of the story, succeeding only in distracting and confusing the reader. The main characters, meanwhile, fail to resonate beyond stock hero/villain archetypes. Further, the good guys look to The Old Scripture and savior figure Swordbird, while the villains revere the evil Book of Heresy. Such a simplistic portrayal of good and evil compromises the story's depth and suspense (it's also disconcerting-I'd seriously hesitate recommending this to my 12-year-old niece). Still, I do hope Fan keeps writing, finds better editors and enjoys the royalties from the inevitable Disney adaptation. 

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