Review: “Wellside,” Robin Shortt

Pros: The worldbuilding
Cons: Still get confused about how the Library works
Rating: 4 out of 5

Robin Shortt’s Wellside is a fun tale of a Well that exists between worlds. The story starts out at Chifley High, where student Ben is observing the fascinating sketches that Essa is making. He ends up catching the attention of psychotic bully Ryan, however, and runs for it. He ends up at the gym, where he desperately tries to open the door that no one has been able to open–only it does open, and a monster climbs out. The door turns out to be a Door into the Well, and Essa has been trapped in Ben’s world for a year waiting for this Door to “ripen”. She ends up pulling Ben into the Well with her, where they find themselves caught up in a fight against an entity called the Exile that could destroy the Well. There are three Powers in the Well and its worlds: the Cogs (machine-oriented people), the Vats (specializing in biology), and the Library (specializing in information). Essa is a Librarian, and this gives her certain unusual abilities. Alternating sections show us some of Essa’s past experiences in the Library.

The idea of a Well between worlds is neat–I enjoy world-hopping adventures. Somewhat original in here is the idea that there are actual towns suspended within the Well. The Red Sand Library is also really neat and original. However, I found the Powers to be very monolithic. All of the Cogs were largely the same; all of the Vats’ agents were largely the same. We only saw some variation in the Librarians through seeing Essa’s background, and there were only two individualized Librarians besides her.

I also found it difficult to really understand the Library. It’s an Intelligence, and the Librarians are researchers. There are creatures called Isms that the various Librarians serve, and which sometimes do battle. I never understood how exactly they do research. And other than Essa’s attempt to research how to create new Doors–something only the Exile knows how to do before her–I never understood what most of the Librarians research. Most of the flashbacks to Essa’s past explore the relationships between her, an old friend of hers, and a Librarian named Gregor, who ends up in the middle of the war against the Exile along with Essa. The unusual things Essa can do involve her Ism and red sand and strange symbols she forms with her hands or writes directly into the sand, and I never got a handle on that. It feels kind of hand-waved, especially when Ben (who happens to be a hacker) gets involved on his laptop.

What’s there is really neat, but I felt like there needed to be more. More variation among the Powers and a greater understanding of how the Library worked. This is an enjoyable book, however, and I’d like to see more of this world.

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