Thanks to the various book prizes that are awarded both here in New Zealand and overseas there have been some fantastic new authors for children and young adults discovered. Some of my favourite authors have won the Text Prize in the last few years, including Richard Newsome and Leanne Hall, which has started them on their writing career. The Tessa Duder Award is a relatively new award in New Zealand and it is given annually to the unpublished author of a work of fiction for young adults aged 13 and above. Last year’s very deserving winner was Rachel Stedman. I’m extremely glad she won because her book, A Necklace of Souls is a brilliant fantasy that left me awestruck. It has just been published in New Zealand, just in time for NZ Book Month.
In the hidden Kingdom of the Rose a Guardian protects her people with the help of a magical necklace. But evil forces are also seeking the necklace, and as the Guardian grows weaker these forces threaten to destroy the Kingdom. Dana, the rightful heir, must claim the necklace and save her people. Her duty is clear: to protect her homeland she must submit to the power of the necklace. But all power comes at a price – a price that Dana may not be willing to pay.
A Necklace of Souls is gripping, dark fantasy that sweeps you up takes you on a wild ride. It has reignited my love of fantasy stories. R.L. Steadman transported me to a medieval world similar to ours, where illness and war has ripped through the world leaving death in its wake. The one place that is safe, clean and peaceful is the Kingdom of the Rose, a magical, legendary place that is protected by a guardian. We’re introduced to the two characters who are central to the story – Will and Dana. Will lives outside the walls of the kingdom with a loving family, until the plague reaches his town and he is one of the only survivors. Luckily for Will, his Auntie and Uncle provide safe passage for him into the Kingdom, where he becomes an apprentice. It is inside the walls of the Kingdom that he meets Dana, the princess with a very important role to play.
I found the story absolutely fascinating. Rachel draws you in with the mystery surrounding the Kingdom, the necklace and its Guardian, Dana’s strange gift of true dreaming, and the threat from an army from a far off land. You know that all these pieces of the puzzle fit together somehow and you don’t want to stop reading until you find out how. N’tombe was one of the characters that intrigued me the most because her past was so shadowy. One of the things I liked most about the story was that, even when you got to the very last page, there is still a sense of mystery to the characters.
The story initially alternates between Will and Dana, but focuses more on Dana as the story progresses. I found it interesting that Dana’s story was narrated by her, but Will’s story was told in the third person. This seemed to fit the story though and I really enjoyed switching between the two. Dana and Will are both wonderful characters but Dana stood out more for me. She’s definitely not your average princess! She’s not afraid to get dirty, she’s a skilled fighter, and she’s not interested in being the center of attention or attending to her royal duties. She’s the complete opposite of her mother, who is incredibly vain and more interested in her face creams than the welfare of her people. Dana’s journey through the course of the story and the burden she has to carry has a huge effect on her.
A Necklace of Souls is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I hope that there is more of Dana and Will’s story to come. I think that A Necklace of Souls can stand proudly beside the likes of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina as a great fantasy story for teens and adults alike. Everybody should go out and buy a copy for NZ Book Month and support this wonderful New Zealand author.
5 out of 5 stars