The Farwalker’s Quest by Joni Sensel – Middle Grade Fiction (review)

farwalkersquest_sensel_bloomsburyAbout the book:

Ariel has always been curious, but when she and her best friend Zeke stumble upon a mysterious old telling dart she feels an unexplained pull toward the dart, and to figuring out what it means. Magically flying great distances and only revealing their messages to the intended recipient, telling darts haven’t been used for years, and no one knows how they work. So when two strangers show up looking for the dart, Ariel and Zeke realize that their discovery is not only interesting, but very dangerous. The telling dart, and the strangers, leads them to a journey more perilous and encompassing than either can imagine, and in the process both Zeke and Ariel find their true calling. – See more at:

This is a Middle Grade fantasy set in a world that has changed since the “Blind War,” though it is unclear if this is our world or another.  At twelve, there is a NamingTest that each child takes to see if they will apprentice in their chosen vocation and take a new last name such as Healtouch or Treesinger, or spend a year as a Fool.  When Ariel fails her Healtouch test, and is kidnapped by two Finders, the harrowing journey to discover her true vocation begins.

I like to keep my eye out for interesting Middle Grade fiction, especially those that feature a strong female heroine and/or a good model of friendship.  On those accounts, this is a pretty good choice.  I also look for good writing, and while I did pause a bit over an awkward sentence or two, this is a pretty good choice in that aspect as well.

…the horse’s withers rubbed blisters and bruises on Ariel’s bare legs.  More painful yet was the sore in her heart, put there by the knowledge that Canberra Docks was falling much farther behind her than anyone in the village had ever been. (p.90)

One of my main issues with this book is with how the relationship between the main character, Ariel, and one of the strangers who kidnaps her develops.  Having a seemingly bad character become not so bad after all is fine, having a kidnapper become a sort of father figure is not so fine in my opinion.  However, I can appreciate how the story is constructed and the plot is moved forward with this as an integral part.

As an adult reading a Middle Grade book, I enjoyed the story once I got past the almost literally tree-hugging magic that is first introduced.  The magic seems to be based on a kind of animism and has references to “the Essence” and Beltane.  I appreciated that the book description of Zeke being his friend Ariel’s rescuer was not the focus of the story, nor is it completely accurate.  I also appreciated that the story included more nuanced characters than other Middle Grade fantasy I’ve read, and that the typical storyline of a right of passage test was used but did not devolve in the way many recent YA treatments of this have.  For an adult reader, this is a quick, fun read with only minor issues.

Occasionally I’m lucky enough to find a copy of a book that I was previously interested in (I had this marked as to-read on GoodReads) at a local Dollar Tree stores.  While I love finding books for only a dollar, I typically bring them home and set them on a shelf then forget about them.  So I read this book as a part of the Middle Grade May readathon and the first in my personal challenge to read at least one of my Dollar Tree book purchases per month. I am unsure, at this point, if I will continue reading the trilogy.  Though I did end up enjoying the story, it is not a book I will be recommending to my middle grade niece.

The Farwalker’s Quest by Jodi Sensel | Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers, February 2010 | paperback, 372 pages