The Power of the Eight by Suzanne Rho is one of those books that improves after the fact. If that sounds like I am damning it with faint praise – hold on – I’m not.
As I initially read the story I found it enjoyable. It’s the kind of read I like to take along with me on a lazy afternoon where I have nothing else to do.
It’s the type of story I would classify as “pastime reading”. Not too heavy, moves along well, all good things.
Now here’s where things get interesting.
As I started to write this review I spent some time reviewing the story and my reaction to it. And out of a pleasant afternoon’s diversion emerged this facet I hadn’t registered on my first read through. It’s not just a fantasy with magic and adventure and True Love, it also contains a message.
The story at its core is one of longing to belong.
The protagonist is a young woman in a remote Scottish town. In chronic pain, with a generous helping of anxiety and a past of abandonment she manages her way through life. Her life is one of grey monotony. The endless rounds of doctor appointments, trips to the therapist, chronic physical pain and frustration define her life.
It was the idea that the story held a person with a chronic illness at the center that initially caught my interest. Usually most heroes are able bodied and relatively sound of mind.
Indeed, we meet Ren (aka Renee) in her psychiatrist’s office. Our first glimpse of Ren is of a young woman dealing not only with perpetual anxiety, but also persistent physical pain.
She manages both with a sharp self-deprecating wit and pure grit. Ren is not one to wallow in self-pity or use her physical challenges as a free-pass. It is wonderful to see the myth of the helpless chronically ill person smashed. In her portrayal of Ren, Ms. Roh captures a very realistic look at the life of the chronically ill. Ren exhibits the power of most of the challenged to elevate the skills of day-to-day life to a level which the healthy might never perceive.
There is one aspect of this trope that didn’t get smashed. Pity that. I was a bit disappointed to see that the line of traveling to the alternate – magical – world cured the protagonist. One day I would like to see a protagonist fight for their health rather than having their problems – pardon the pun – magically resolve themselves.
But, I have to give the story some slack. It is a fantasy, so why not envision good health or physical perfection. Some might consider those greater blessings than discovering they had magic. So, I shouldn’t quibble about that.
However, I do have one quibble. Lulled ≠ Lolled
I suspect the misuse of the word is a typo. Or even, a case of the computer thinking it was smarter than the human. Damn you, autocorrect. I trust the error will be corrected in time.
Quibble aside –
The story draws Ren, an abandoned, isolated, wounded person into an environment where she can flourish and most importantly finally find the place where she belongs.
Everyone could benefit from spending some time in Ren’s brogues.
I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.