Tuesday, May 6, 2014
The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace
Published May 2013 by Touchstone
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen, older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel, beautiful, naïve—and blind. When their parents die suddenly, Rachel has to rely on Helen for everything, but Helen embraces her role in all the wrong ways, convincing Rachel that the world is a dark and dangerous place she couldn’t possibly survive on her own . . . or so Helen believes, until Rachel makes a surprising choice that turns both their worlds upside down.
My family loves the movie adaptation of Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, so it was a no-brainer to accept this book for review when it was offered to me for review. Like Big Fish. The Kings and Queens of Roam is a tall tale filled with filled with larger than life characters both literally and figuratively, ghosts, curses, and magical waters.
Roam is a dying town, built decades early by Elijah McCallister, great-grandfather of Helen and Rachel. Elijah is not a nice man, in fact he's a man who has made his fortune by cheating a man named Ming Kai out of the secret of making silk from silkworms and mulberry trees. When their very complicated relationship comes to an end, Ming Kai curses Elijah and his descendants. It also means the end of Roam which begins a long slow death. But Ming Kai and his descendants and those who follow him don't fare much better.
"The" reviewers seem to love this book. I had mixed feelings. While I enjoyed the story very much, there were parts where I felt the story got bogged down and where I wasn't sure why Wallace had made the choices he made. There's quite a lot about loggers and their dogs and, while the dogs do come to play a part later, it felt like that part could have been trimmed.
I did love the relationship between Rachel and Helen and was interested by my own reaction to Helen as the book went on. Wallace plays with readers feelings toward Helen. She lies for years to Rachel, telling her that Roam and the lands outside of it are evil and dangerous and tells Rachel that Rachel is ugly and that Helen is the beautiful one. My gut reaction was to despise Helen for making Rachel feel even worse about herself and for making her wholly dependent on Helen. But the more I thought about it, the more I blamed the girls' parents who were so remote - allowing Helen to largely raise Rachel and not to do more to make Helen feel better about herself. While a big reason for Helen doing was she did was purely spiteful, I understood a part of her deeply needed Rachel to remain with her, imagining that no one else would ever love her.
Ultimately, The Kings and Queens of Roam is a story of love, forgiveness and redemption which works because of the readers' attachment to key characters and a tall tale which works because of the fantasy world Wallace creates.