Peace Corps Writers
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Orphan Quest
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Orphan Quest
Bookworld Series: Volume One. A Tale From . . .
by Nicole DeCanio (Ghana 2000–02)
Xlibris, $31.99; $21.99 paperback
200 pages
2000

Orphan Quest
  Reviewed by Paul Shovlin (Moldova 1996–98)
 
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I WAS REALLY EXCITED when I got my hands on a copy of Orphan Quest: Bookworld Series — Volume One. A Tale From… by Nicole DiCanio. I’m a glutton for popular fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction. Also, DiCanio’s book title suggested an extended read. Indeed, according to the description on Xlibris.com, DiCanio promises three more books in this fantasy series.
     The book is narrated from the perspective of Jason, a teenager who at the beginning of the book lives in an orphanage. A mysterious old man, by the strange name of Rum Lin, arrives one day looking for a young teenager to adopt. It is clear from the beginning that Rum Lin’s motives may be a little more complicated than he lets on. Jason soon discovers that he has been selected and trained (extra-curricular fencing, jousting, survival lessons and so on) to set out on a mission that Rum Lin was unable to accomplish in the past.
     The mission lies in the alternate world of Trias, only accessible through a magical book in Rum Lin’s library that writes itself, as long as blank pages remain to tell of Jason’s adventures in his alternate body, that of Basil. In Trias, Basil must assemble the various lost statuettes that make up the body of the statue of the White Dragon of Ages Past, an artifact that will tip the scale in favor of its owner.
     In Trias, Lady Joeanne and Lady Raquel represent the forces of good and evil respectively. These two sisters have been struggling for years to remake Trias after their own nature. Thus, Lady Joeanne promises a world of peace and prosperity if she gains control, while Lady Raquel promises a world of evil and suffering. The White Dragon is the key to it all, and Basil is determined to retrieve and complete the statue for Lady Joeanne. To make matters more complicated, Basil is under a few restrictions. He may not divulge his real background (that of Jason) to anyone, nor kiss anyone in the world of Trias or he will remain Basil forever.
     Razen, a dutiful soldier with a penchant for languages; Flipp, a young woman with a mysterious past; and Kinet, a silent boy with strange powers and some helpful animal friends, accompany Jason/Basil on his quest.
     DiCanio draws on a host of fantasy sources in the course of her weaving of the tale. For the most part, though, her imagination infuses such references with new life. And then, of course, there are elements that are completely DiCanio’s own and these are very effective in contributing to the richness of her fantasy setting.
     DiCanio is successful at creating sympathy for the main character. Jason/Basil is an intriguing protagonist. While he instantly achieves hero status with those in the world of Trias, he views himself as a failure through much of the book. His angst is genuine, as his successes don’t come without some loss. The loss that he experiences resonates with the reader as well.
     DiCanio creates a sincere sense of uncertainty in Jason/Basil. Jason/Basil’s struggle for identity is compelling, especially as an orphan who seems at least slightly cynical or pessimistic at the opening of the story. His character development is very subtle, and somewhat impressive. He wavers back and forth between his dual identities, neither of which gives him a strong sense of stability. Ultimately, though he must make a choice.
     The apparent lack of an editorial presence is the biggest shortcoming of the book, which may be the result of the publishing venue, Xlibris. But, if a reader is willing to overlook a few typographical and grammar errors, some repetition and style choices, and so forth, there is a lot to be excited about. DiCanio’s ability shines through in choice scenes, especially towards the end, when everything seems to click.
     In moments like that, DiCanio’s potential really shows. The narration takes a step away from the author and achieves a sort of life of its own. The theme of uncertainty comes full circle in the dreamlike ending. And without giving away the ending, the final line is compelling and leaves the reader wanting more. Overall, Orphan Quest was entertaining and a fitting beginning to a longer series. DiCanio is a fantasy author to keep an eye on in the future.
 
Paul Shovlin was a TEFL Volunteer in Moldova, Eastern Europe. Since then he has relocated in Athens, Ohio and taught English at Ohio University. Whenever possible he integrates popular fiction into his courses. This fall he will be entering a PhD program at Ohio University in Rhetoric and Composition. In addition to teaching, he will be developing OU’s writing cyberspace, including facilities for writing tutoring and teaching writing online.
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