Novel Review: Call Forth the Waves
by L. J. Hatton. Skyscape: New York, 2016. Young adult.
“Adults were too busy looking for an angle and trying to unravel the science behind the magic. They were so distracted searching for gears, and wires, and secret hatches that they missed the performance.”
Disclaimer: Whilst there are certainly merits in analyzing a text as it stands alone, I felt it necessary to read both the first and the second novel in order to complete this review. Therefore there will be references to book one of the series, Sing Down the Stars, but no significant spoilers of either.
Overall: 4/5 stars*
L. J. Hatton’s Celestine series is less of a patchwork of genre and more of an embroidery sewn into an addictive plot—one that is more than substantial enough to flow into a second and third installment. Aliens known as the Medusae visited Earth many years ago and then suddenly left. They appeared to have no effect until people started displaying extraordinary powers including matter manipulation, teleportation, and mind control. People said those with abilities were ‘touched’ by the Medusae.
The novel is set many years after the Medusae left, focusing on the aftermath of the visitation. Those with powers are viewed with suspicion, while some doubt whether the aliens came to Earth at all. The reader enters the world of the text at a precarious time, following the lives of the Roma family.
The first novel in the series, Sing Down the Stars, introduces us to the five Roma sisters, who each possess the power to manipulate one of the four elements (earth, wind, fire water) with the fifth able to combine and utilize all the elements. The fifth daughter is known as the ‘Celestine,’ who also happens to be our protagonist, Penelope. Penelope ‘Penn’ Roma has hidden away her true nature for most of her life, raised by her father as a boy named Penn due to the fact that her powers would make her a target for the Commission, a militant force seeking to contain and manipulate those who are touched. This results in a constant struggle for Penn between her powers and her gender identity.
Penn is reminiscent of a younger Jean Grey/Phoenix (the film, not the comic book), powerful in an unstable, volatile way connected almost entirely to her emotional state. Not only this, but the nature of what she can or cannot do is unknown. Despite the fact that Penn is only sixteen-years-old, her story is far from the conventional coming-of-age young adult story. She is already an old soul—confident, intelligent and deeply caring. Her story mimics so many found in adult genres: a story of being torn away from one’s epistemic world and dealing with new experiences, loss, and the unfamiliar. This is evident right from the beginning of Call Forth the Waves. When she finally finds her safe space, it feels cold and brittle. She mourns her old life and the walls of the Hollow serve to increase these feelings, as well as her anxiety about the location of two of her sisters. She still has to figure out how to save them without risking the lives of her family and her friends.
The imagery paints a steampunk and magical fantasy landscape, but the technology and physical inventory suggest a more science fictional world. We see mention of tablet computers, the Internet, robots, bio-mechanical engineering, and even holograms. On the other hand we see incredible cities built into the sky, people returning from the dead, and characters like Birch who are able to manipulate their environment in ways that seems more akin to magical ability and works of fantasy. This is not contrived, either; Hatton purposefully plays these two genres against each other to heighten the mystery. Even our protagonist is unsure how it all works in this world:
“My father had tried to explain it to me once, but it was all over my head. Pocket dimensions and quantum displacement involving equations he used entire notebooks to work out by hand.”
The more you read, the more you wonder: could all of this really be connected to the Medusae alone? If so, is the origin of the alien power itself based on a Clarkeian mysticism? Hatton provides us with some clues, such as the appearance of the character Nafiza. Nafiza’s precognition hints at something connected to fate, determinism, and even spirituality. There seems to be an interesting balance between what the aliens did, what the humans did, and how far the two intersect. Hatton writes with a coherence that allows the reader to entertain all of these possibilities, whilst also creating many unique characters. Birdie, Klok, Birch, Xerxes, Jermay, and Anise (to name a few) could not be more different, but each offer their own essential voices and the novel would not be the same without them. Hatton’s style finds a natural harmony between character interaction and pace.
I am very much looking forward to the third installment of this series. Having reached the end of the second novel with even more questions that I did with Sing Down the Stars, I wonder if Hatton will be able to unpack all of the mysteries and answer the inconclusive details generated by the narrative thus far. Hopefully the plot does not rely too much on the Medusae as the answer to everything.
The final pieces are still needed in order to ‘genre-fy’ this series and I am definitely going to pick up Hatton’s next offering. For those who have yet to, or are reluctant to foray into the world of young adult fiction, I don’t blame you. The target audience is not the SF/F connoisseur who finds solace in the works of Bester or Blish. However, Hatton has put together a promising series here so far and it is definitely worth binge-reading if you enjoy the interplay between the fantastical, the science fictional, and the whimsical.
We're using a five-star rating system for now and while readers should be familiar and comfortable with this format, as a reminder:
1 – Unacceptable. A very negative experience
2 – Mediocre. Some serious structural issues
3 – Neutral to positive review. May suit a specific audience
4 – Positive review, a must-read for genre fans
5 – Highly recommended, a must-read for everyone
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