My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
There is a village where the people live long lives, everyone has a role to play in their community and everyone knows everyone else’s business. A sacred tree grows in the center of the village, which provides the people with everything they need to keep things running, especially the fire made from its bark that keeps the Shadows at bay. Only, now the Healing Tree seems to be dying, and the protecting fire dies with it.
Corrine and her twin-brother, Mori, were orphaned as young children, when their parents were killed by the Shadows whilst rescuing two boys who slipped out of the village unnoticed. Now, years later, they have been tasked with keeping the fire burning. Three things happen that change their reality radically; the fire dies out twice, one of the village guards is taken by the Shadows (not killed) and, as a result, they discover that the Tree is dying. Corrine is adamant in wanting to find out what is going on. Her suspicions of foul play are stoked when she learns that the village leaders, the Primaries, are keeping secrets from the others and are holding one of the villagers prisoner. Corrine’s search for answers leads her to discovering a journal written by a group of people known as The First. Going against everything that she has been taught to believe, Corrine leads her twin and her mate out beyond the Village walls, into lands haunted by the Shadows, to discover the truth of her people’s origins, ultimately to save the Healing Tree and her people. But what she learns will eclipse even her worst nightmares.
The story is told in the first-person, from the perspective of Corrin. She is an interesting lead character, willful, pushy and inquisitive to the point that she is constantly endangering herself and the lives of her loved ones. Indeed, her characteristics are omens for what is to come in the story, and therefore a very clever mechanic employed by Green, regardless of whether it was by design or not. In comparison, the other characters only seem to be there to fulfill particular roles, to be called on when needed for the plot. Mori is the shy twin, often dragged into the path of trouble by his sister; Bharadon is Corrine’s mate, a strong and gruff type that is there to provide her with a protective cocoon when things backfire. One other interesting character crops up in the form of Allysar, one of the young men that Corrine’s parents rescued. It turns out that Allysar had made similar discoveries to Corrine and had been slipping out of the village to follow up his theories when the tragedy occurred. Allysar comes across as a paranoid sneak, who would have made an interesting character for Corrine to play-off, but sadly he only gets limited page time.
The world of The First, is a post-apocalyptic one set so far in the future the people of the village have regressed to a basic steam-powered age. What little knowledge of our world there is exists only in the pages of books, but with little to differentiate between fact and fiction. The Village is actually large enough to be a town and has a complete eco-system for the survival of the people, but beyond the walls nature has reasserted its dominance and the modern cities are crumbly relics of what once was. Green has managed to come up with an interesting mythology for her world and this is central to the plot and reflected on through the inner-dialogue of the central character.
Overall, this is an interesting and original novel, despite early similarities to M Night Shymalan’s film The Village, Lisa M Green manages to give us something better and beyond a simplistic twist. Not everyone will like the pacing of the novel and the conclusion may also spark discussion, but overall this is a really well-written novel that reflects on humanity’s relationship with God and Nature; a novel that will leave you thinking. I score this 3.5.