Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

My goal in 2020 was to diversify my TBR pile and try to read more books by BIPOC writers. Because of my time constraints and the fact that I’m a slow reader, I like to keep books under 300 pages, and I’m an escapist by nature, so I prefer fantasy. Lightfinder, by Aaron Paquette, was the perfect match.

I know I bought this book in 2020 and then I started it last month, but give me a break. I have a lot going on.

Characters

First, let’s start with Aisling. At first, because the audience knows more than the (pov) characters, Aisling comes off as a bit naive and stubborn, falling into the common ‘why me?’ attitude of many YA Chosen Ones. But, the characters around her support and embolden her petty quickly into finding her feet, or at least, finding the grit to keep finding her feet. She is bright, inquisitive, open-minded, loyal, respectful, and tough. I actually really liked her. I find that a lot of female YA protagonists can fall into the pick-me, not-like-other-girls trap, where the well-intentioned author tries to reach out to the disenfranchised audience by making the MC angry and bitter, resistant to the story for so long that I start to wonder if she’s ever going to move the story forward at all, or just scowl at peripheral characters’ efforts. Aisling takes on the mantle pretty quickly, albeit with bewilderment and frustration at every weird turn, but she takes her training in stride, and leans on the wisdom and support of the characters trying to help her.

Next is Eric, Aisling’s younger brother, and sort of unwitting antagonist. Eric is impulsive and hot-headed, fueled by anger, grief, confusion, and resentment. Being a kid is hard, and he has a lot he’s struggling with. Being a victim of bullying put him in a position to stay defensive and also cling to the acceptance of a seemingly cooler protector kid and dark magics. As a reader, I got frustrated with Eric a lot because he made a lot of bad choices, but as I writer I loved him because he made all the right ones. All the while I sympathized with him, while hoping someone would stop him.

My favourite character- no surprise, here- was probably Kokum. ‘Kokum’ is the Cree word for grandmother, and her name is Georgia, but she is mostly referred to as Kokum. She’s old and wise, as grandmother’s often are, but also tough as nails, crazy powerful, funny, warm, charming, knowledgeable, and brave. She’s seen it all, done it all, everyone knows who she is, and they all like her. She’s probably Aisling’s greatest support and teacher.

This, in my opinion, is where Paquette shines. It is so hard for a lot of dudes to write healthy and realistic relationships between women. Kokum comes with her daughter (Aisling’s aunt), Martha, and the three women are a tight unit. Aisling never casts her grandmother or aunt aside as being old or out of touch, they never dismiss her as being an airhead or shallow. They all rely on each other and share their unique gifts.

Kokum brought with her a young Aboriginal man named Matari, who had his own similar-yet-different kind of magic. I’m torn on Matari. He’s really cool, but the story is about the family. As a reader, I wanted more of him, but as a writer…it’s probably fine. I actually really like that he wasn’t at the showdown (spoilers) and I was kind of worried that he would swoop in and save the day. If he were real, I think he’d agree that it was best he take a backseat. He’s pretty chill like that.

Lastly, we come to Cor and, to a lesser degree, Jake. Cor is Eric’s friend and protector for a while, until his motives become clear. Then, the dynamic changes and he becomes more of a captive. I have complicated feelings about him. I immediately mistrusted him, but he was in an impossible position.

Paquette’s only misstep, imi, was in his name. I clocked him right away. However, I just now got the clue in Jake’s name. Like, as I’m writing this, it just clicked.

Jake is another of Aisling’s allies, and a sort-of romantic interest. Also, the only white character in the book, which…makes sense, not gonna lie, lol. I honestly didn’t see the twist with him coming.

Spoilers, crows, ravens, and Jays are members of the Corvid family. It was in front of my face, the whole time.

Setting

Most of the material world is set in the winter in Canada, so I can’t say much about the geography. Paquette is Canadian, though, so I’ll just trust him.

A lot of it takes place in what we in Western Mysticism call the Astral Plane, but Matari calls the Dreaming, or the Dreamtime, where the characters can cross wide swathes of terrain. There’s also a Summerland forest where humans take on their animal totem forms.

The final scenes on Turtle Mountain give me strong Mordor vibes.

Plot

The plot structure is what is called The Parallel. We follow Eric’s journey to meet Cor’s dad, and we follow Aisling’s journey to save Eric and bring him back. Running through both of these lines is the story of Raven versus Sky Father and Mother Earth, Eric’s descent into darkness, and Aisling’s assention to Lightfinder.

I don’t want to give away too much because it’s very well done.

Themes

I think the primary theme of this book is family. Good versus evil is huge, of course, as is truth versus illusion, but in my opinion, family is at the heart. Eric is lost because he thinks his family doesn’t care about him, he’s disappointed in actions some family members take, and in the end, it’s family (blood and found) that save him. Even Matari, Cor, Jake, and the anthropomorphic fox, Skia, are considered family at one point or another, for good or ill.

Style

I’m trained in the current style of storytelling, which is as succinct as possible. No extra words, easy on the adverbs, match your sentence length to the pace of the scene. Therefore, it took me a little minute to get into the rhythm of Paquette’s style. But, after a while, it starts to take on almost an oral tradition kind of vibe, as though it’s meant to be heard, rather than read, and then it flows a lot better.

Style is an intensely personal thing. No two authors write totally the same, just like no two people speak the same. So, my only real criticism here is that I wish there were general pop culture references. I feel like those may add something to the contemporary feel, but they get dated fast and detract from the timelessness of the larger story. But I’m fussy about things like that.

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