Pros: Delightfully original and creative
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
S.M. Beiko’s Scion of the Fox: The Realms of Ancient, Book 1 (Realms of Ancient, The) is a delightful young adult urban fantasy novel. 17-year-old Roan Harken was orphaned at three years old. She lives with her Aunt Deedee and eccentric Uncle Arnas, and her comatose grandmother Cecelia lives on the third floor of their house. One day Roan nearly dies, only to be saved by a fiery fox-woman named Sil. Sil teaches her that she’s a Denizen, one of the Five Families that live alongside humans (the Five are Foxes, Deer, Owls, Seals, and Rabbits). She had been marked for sacrifice to appease Zabor, a malign river spirit, and keep her from flooding Winnipeg. Now that she’s survived, the other Denizens will try to kill her to complete the sacrifice–in fact, girls who look like her are being killed around the city. She needs to find a way to bind and banish Zabor forever, something that her parents tried (and failed) to accomplish. But first, she’ll need an ally from each of the other Families to help her.
The characters have a fair amount of depth to them. There are no one-dimensional evil people (unless you count Zabor, who’s more of a force of nature); everybody has reasons for the things they do and some people can even be redeemed. Each friend Roan picks up has their own unique personality. Even the creepy stalkers Zabor sends after Roan develop some interest to them. I enjoyed the fact that the main female character did not become part of a romantic coupling–it’s nice now and then to see a young woman who doesn’t have to be paired off.
The worldbuilding is wonderful. The particular animals Ms. Beiko chose to use were not a stereotypical spread, and she put a great deal of originality into how she used them. I did find myself wondering, since the number of Denizens living among humans was dropping (particularly among the Deer), how it was that they had enough children available to sacrifice one from each Family each year.
The plot seems simple, if daunting: unite the power of the Five Families, collect a magical artifact from another realm, defeat Zabor before spring, and survive. Of course it’s a lot harder than it seems. The agreement that’s kept Zabor at bay for all of these years is fiercely enforced by the Owls, and no one wants to upset the apple cart and be responsible for the entire city flooding. So there are few potential allies among the Families. The artifact Roan needs is in a bloody realm that claimed her mother’s life, and she needs access to a very well-guarded gate to get there. Then she’ll still have to defeat Zabor with the help of her friends–and Zabor is not exactly a small or low-powered creature. So many things can (and do) go wrong, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting our heroes.
I definitely recommend this adventure story, and I look forward to reading the sequel!