by Michael Lawrence
When I reviewed A Crack in the Line
(the first book in the Withern Rise Trilogy), I mentioned that it seemed to end abruptly, as if the story was incomplete. My first guess as to the reason was correct. The reason was obvious: the story was incomplete. Book 2 of the trilogy, Small Eternities
, combines with A Crack in the Line
to form a single, tightly plotted, and virtually perfect tragedy.
It is a tragedy with a fantasy-sci fi twist: parallel realities branch out from events which could have come out one way or the other. And under a certain oak tree in the garden of a riverfront mansion called Withern Rise, the boundaries between these realities have become thin. Already in A Crack in the Line we have met a boy named Alaric Underwood and a girl named Naia Underwood who could be twins, but who are in fact the same person from two of these realities. And we have seen disturbing glimpses of at least two other realities as well.
In the version of the world Alaric came from, his mother Alex was killed in a train crash two years ago. In Naias native reality, the crash happened but Alex Underwood survived; plus, Alexs older sister, Alarics aunt Linie, doesnt exist. Now the two teens have unintentionally swapped lives, and no one knows the difference except themselves.
As Small Eternities begins, Naia is struggling to endure the constant strain of pretending to belong in Alarics reality, where the mother she knows isnt hers is dead, and the rundown house is just beginning to rebound from two years of grief and apathy, aided by the new woman in Ivans (the fathers) life. She wants to go back to where she belongs and set things straight. But Alaric has never been happier than he is now, usurping Naias place in a house more beautiful than ever because of the uninterrupted, radiant presence of Alex. It isnt a pretty side of Alarics character, but losing his mother is one of the reasons he became that way. He isnt going to let her go again without a fight.
Which brings me back to the subject of tragedy. Small Eternities is a tragedy; or rather, it is half of a tragedy that began with the previous book. What seemed like loose threads when you finished A Crack in the Line are now realized as grim foreshadowings. What seemed like isolated moments become the beginning of cataclysmic chains of events. And what seemed a chance for Alaric to reclaim what he has lost leads, in fact, to yet another loss that nothing in time will heal. Though, to judge by the number of loose threads remaining at the end of this book, there may be something in another timeline that may helpample reason to look forward to the third book in the trilogy, The Underwood See, when you come to the heartbreaking end of this novel.
Ive been purposely vague about exactly what happens in Small Eternities. But I can tell you a few things. Alaric and Naia find they can travel not only between realities, but back in time as well. Somehow their time travel is limited to a year when, at the same season, the whole area was covered by a flood, just as in the present. Unfortunately, their appearance at a Withern Rise of the past has devastating effects on history, events connected with a homeless tramps gradually recovered memories and a shattering loss in another generation of Underwoods.
Let me be frank. This is a fascinating book, but you should only read it if you are prepared to bear witness to deep and abiding grief, shocking deaths, the elegiac beauty of a flooded paradise, and the soft but ominous tread of unavoidably approaching tragedy. And you should also be aware that at the time of this writing, there is no relief for the tragic atmosphere in which this book ends. The Underwood See is due to be released in March 2007.
Recommended Age: 14+
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