The Talisman of El
One Planet. Two Worlds. We’re journeying to the center of the earth for today’s LibriCritic review. (Please try to contain your excitement. )
Talisman of El
by Alecia Stone
Published May 20, 2012
When 14-year-old Charlie Blake wakes up sweating and gasping for air in the middle of the night, he knows it is happening again. This time he witnesses a brutal murder. He’s afraid to tell anyone. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago – the day before his dad died. Charlie doesn’t know why this is happening. He would give anything to have an ordinary life. The problem: he doesn’t belong in the world he knows as home.
No, it turns out Charlie Blake does not belong in the same world as us surface dwellers. He belongs in Arcadia, the mystical land of angels which just so happens to exist smack dab in the center of our earth (via an inter-dimensional portal, of course). Arcadia isn’t an easy place to get to, though. Charlie has to recruit a band of misfits–including the feisty, but sheltered Alex, fellow orphan Richmond, and the oddly-aging Derkein–to track down Arcadia’s entrance, and, ultimately, the fabled Garden of Eden, said to grant any wish.
There’s a lot to like in this fantasy-adventure debut. Stone has taken the angel concept, which has been done to death in YA romances, and transformed it into an adventure story complete with dragons, phoenixes, and some really awesome shape-shifters. Plenty of detail has gone into the land of Arcadia, so much so that at times Stone has difficulty getting it all out through the narration. More than one long conversation is held between Charlie and the Arcadians, trying to nail down the finer points of angel society. This will delight readers who enjoy complex worldbuilding, but may frustrate others who just want to action to move along.
Unfortunately, the same attention to detail doesn’t seem to have gone into the development of the main characters. Charlie came off as a bit stale and, sadly, boring. It was difficult to relate to his life of woe and his desire to find family when he seemed rather hoe-hum about it himself. In fact, what should have been the big thrust of the story–Charlie obsessing over finding the Garden of Eden to make his wish–was only occasionally brought up in the midst of his thoughts.
The other characters suffered a similar fate. Alex–Charlie’s first friend and love interest–falls out of the story about halfway through, while Richmond served no practical purpose past providing some comic relief (and being a person Charlie must constantly rescue from danger). Derkein is perhaps the most well-rounded of the three. The strange curse which prematurely ages him, combined with some serious father issues, cast him with much more complex shadows than on any of the others and opens the door to some really neat philosophical dilemmas, should Stone choose to go there.
Also lacking was a bit of polish to the writing style. Some transitions were odd or confusing. A few fight scenes came off as disconnected or jarring. The ending in particular lack continuity, with the plot’s climatic showdown literally disappearing at the best point, only to be recounted later at Charlie’s bedside.
Despite my complaints, I feel Charlie’s story has a lot of potential. With a bit of growth and some smoothing of the edges, Stone could turn out novels similar to Percy Jackson or early-days Harry Potter. I just hoping the sequel works out the pitfalls of Talisman of El and just keeps getting better.
A good read for younger audiences. Reminiscent of Percy Jackson, but without Riordan’s flare. Read if you love worldbuilding.
About LibriCriticLibrarian by day, bookseller by night, I read, write, and critically appraise all things to do with the written word. Special interests: mysteries, sci-fi, YA lit Obsessions: Sherlock Holmes (and his many incarnations) and things with buttons!
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