Book Review : Ja’Hanna (Wildvine Series, Book 1)

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Review of  Ja’Hanna (Wildvine Series, Book 1)

Ja’Hanna, the first book of the Wildvine series by Michelle Levigne is a lot of things.  It is a well-written pseudo science-urban-fantasy coming-of-age / romance.  I realize that’s quite a jumble but it tries to be all those things and couple besides. The story revolves around Dayree, the young pre-teen daughter of the noble Taksearhe Clan. Perceived as lacking the clan’s distinct psionic powers (or Talent) she is an outcast even as a child. The single-viewpoint third-person narrative follows Dayree’s growth and her increasing tribulations as she tries to establish her place and identity in the world Rehdonna. This installment ends when she is in her late twenties.

I am an author myself, so I am particularly critical of the works I read.  I am a stickler for viewpoint, immersiveness, pacing, and world-building. Author Levigne has a steady hand on wheel of this literary ship and the presentation is confident, competent and smooth with no glaring plot or psychology holes.  Being an action writer myself, I found the work to be a bit exposition heavy and slow to get rolling. The first real hook into the over-arching plot isn’t until late in chapter four, and things don’t get really fired up until chapter 13.  The action is somewhat passive and people looking for a sword-slashing enemy-trashing gore-fest will be disappointed. There is violence, but the focus is on family cleaving together against adversity and societal pressure.

One of my main quibbles with the book IS the adversity.  The war-like Tobrizz who are set up as the overall threat are nebulously driven and faceless (at least in this volume).  The experienced reader in me relegated them to paper tiger status because the real threat (members of Dayree’s own clan) are so distinct in the way they are played down.  One of the things of having written twenty plus books of my own is that outcomes of stories rarely surprise me.  By the half-way point I had a fair idea of where Ja’Hanna was headed.  It really pleases me when I’m surprised by a twist I didn’t foresee.  The ending here is satisfactory with no huge unexpected twists. Most of the important story questions and character arcs and fulfillment are tied up. Enough unanswered questions and issues are left to pull us toward the next volume. I did find the tease (and failure to reveal) Jayra’s (Dayree’s daughter) powers to be slightly annoying.

Ratings: (1 – 5)

Execution: 4.5 – This is well crafted, clean and consistent.  No head hopping or other jarring technique. My biggest quibble with the work is the handling of star-breaks / space-breaks, and the fact that some should have been chapter breaks.  The transitions around the breaks could stand for significant beefing up.  I found the use of italics for both 1st person internal thoughts and telepathic dialogue to be somewhat jarring.  In my own work, I use <> to handle telepathy to distinguish internal speak from thought speech e.g. <Can you hear my thoughts?> Corim asked.

Setting/World-building: 3.5-4.5 – The characters are well integrated into the world of Rehdonna and there is ample suggestion of depth.  Author Levigne is somewhat stingy with the setting frame-work and details.  I laud that there are no blocks of reader feeder or expositive backstory, but feel that more energy could have been spent to bring the reader into the milieu both in terms of lore and sensory enticements.  I admit I am a sucker for the psionic talent smorgasbord, so my disappointment is doubled when those powers aren’t explored and extrapolated more.  Teleportation and dimension travel have huge nuances and possibilities, and the narrative handles their treatment more as matter-of-fact rather than reverence.

Characters: 4.0 – Dayree is a sympathetic protagonist and decent service is done to her thoughts, feelings, desires and needs.  In the opening chapters, she seems a bit melodramatic, but I suspect that may be fairly true portrayal of a teen with actual reasons for angst and drama. Jo’am is likable as the wise clan leader, and Jayx is a suitable romantic interest and partner.  Davlan and Ayleen are Dayree’s supportive parents. Tolik serves well as the clumsy and dogmatic clan-side antagonist.  My chief observation is that save for Tolik’s foibles, the rest of cast is wart-free. I would have liked to see a rougher edge and little more contention to increase the tension and character revelations in the flatter sections of the novel.  I would also have greatly appreciated more physical details.  The protagonists could be less generic and more distinct, and the use of tags would have helped.

Overall: 4.0 – To anybody who has never written a novel, just putting the wraps on a coherent enjoyable narrative is a huge accomplishment.  This is another well done piece among Michelle Levigne’s myriad contributions. If you are already a fan, then you have something to look forward to. This is an intricate world with a lot to offer.

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