Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
We meet Reychel on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, a day she is dreading and which turns out to be even worse, when, upon awakening, she finds that her best friend Ivy has been kidnapped during the night.
On this day, there will be no real celebration for Reychel. Rather, her birthday will be celebrated during a commitment ceremony, where she will be physically branded and formally committed to her master, Kandek. And now, she has to go through the ceremony without the support of Ivy, who had promised Reychel that she would be there to help her through it.
Reychel is a slave girl in an alternate world created by author Meg Jensen, a world ruled by the Malborn. She lives in cramped, crowded slave quarters and works washing and drying dishes. She is never allowed outside, and is only permitted to look out the window when she is in Kandek’s quarters, where she is frequently summoned to tell him stories.
However, as we soon find out, this will be the day Reychel gets her freedom — in part due to Ivy — and we are taken on a journey with Reychel, Ivy and a host of other characters, during which we learn Reychel and Ivy both have special gifts that are of great importance to those living under the rule of the Malborn.
Reychel’s gift is so valuable, in fact, that Kondek initiates an intensive search for her after her disappearance that goes on for weeks; a surefire sign that she was something much more valuable to him than a simple slave girl who entertained him with enjoyable stories.
However, despite the great risk to their own personal safety, there are many villagers in the surrounding communities willing to help Reychel elude Kondek’s search so that she can use her gifts for their greater benefit.
“Anathema” is technically a young adult book, however, I liken it to a combination of a “Handmaid’s Tale” and the “Harry Potter” books. The alternative world and characters created by Jensen, while not as complex as those in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and not as magical as in J.K. Rowling’s Potter series, are still interesting and draw you in.
And like the Harry Potter series, which was also written for younger readers, it is a book I think adults also will enjoy, so long as they can suspend reality for a bit and accept the world Jensen has created. It is also the first in a series — The Cloud Prophet Trilogy.
And, because it was written for young adults, it is also an easy read for more mature readers, making a perfect ending to a tough day when you just want to escape or get lost in a good story.