Friday, February 24, 2012

The Skeleton's Knife by Joni Sensel

   Last December I wrote a post about the first two Farwalker books: The Farwalker's Quest, and The Timekeeper's Moon. And when Joni Sensel left me a note saying that the third one was just out, I did pounce on the book, and ordered it immediately. Unfortunately, we were gone for several weeks traveling (see previous posts) so I didn't get to read it until mid-January. When I did, I was ever so slightly disappointed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the book... and I read it nearly as quickly as the other two, proving that Ms. Sensel's style is certainly up to the standard of the first two. The main difficulty that I had was with the story-line. This story was simply not as compelling as the first two. The Farwalker's Quest and The Timekeeper's Moon both had events happening outside of and around Ariel that required her to take action, for discovery and for explanation: the first book used an ancient dart and kidnapping to bring Ariel into the midst of an ancient quest that only she could complete, and the second book use the moon to drive her batty until she realized that her first quest actually wasn't complete, and the world as she knew it would be unmade if she didn't accomplish it in time. 

By contrast, The Skeleton's Knife has no real compelling problem outside of Ariel that forces her on a journey and requires her to be courageous. In this story, it is merely the past that haunts her. All the unease and strange signs were a little bit too ephemeral for me. There's a creepy band of flies that keeps following Ariel around and a crow keeps delivering bones to her. When she finds the knife of the man that killed her mother and tried to murder her as well (Elbert), Ariel goes on a quest to "put the knife at rest" and "return it to where it came from." I want to be quite clear and say that this book is an excellent, fun read....but the elements that Sensel uses to propel the plot are weak. She is so clever in the first two books, developing a system of workers and knowledge and behavior in a new world, that she could have easily come up with a truly compelling reason why Ariel had to follow the course of the knife...even into the underworld, which is where she goes. As it is, I feel like Ariel is just being silly, and can't let the past lie. At the end of the book, it's easy to feel like she could have avoided the whole mess if she just hadn't been so silly about the knife in the first place...which on the whole, simply makes the story weaker and less memorable, even if the storytelling is still impeccable.

Other interesting elements include two fascinating new characters: one, a new friend for Ariel and potential girlfriend for Zeke, if he will ever let go of his fancy for Ariel. The other is a fascinating woman, who ends up falling for Scarl. (yay!) The romantic developments in the book are very interesting and fun to follow, along with the new scenery of the water town where Elbert grew up. The harrowing quest across the bridge between life and death is well told and very inventive, drawing on the story of the bridge that Scarl described in the first book. And the ending, which reunites Ariel and Nace, is fantastic. Really, it's a good read...just not the strong story that I had hoped would end the trilogy.

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