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Somtow Sucharitkul – The Fallen CountryHere are my impressions on The Fallen Country, a really dark Fantasy tale for younger readers by Somtow Sucharitkul (also known as S.P. Somtow, for that part of the audience who has problems spelling/pronouncing Sucharitkul) - a story playing against a background of Child Abuse, with the title referring to the parallel universe the protagonist moves to and fro during the story. Fascinating, and impressive, like a punch to the stomach…

The story starts with Charlie, after having smoked dope in the Belfry with his friends, sees snow around the Church steeple, and a boy frozen to it. On a sweltering hot summer’s day. No wonder he thinks he’s hallucinating… but he’s not. The boy on the steeple is Billy Binder, and the mystery of how he got there brings together Charlie, Billy, and Dora, the 22 years old School Councillor.

One of the key elements is “Stark”, the drug-peddling, motorcycle-driving lion tamer, and boyfriend of Billy’s foster mother, who considers himself Billy’s father. Which entitles him (in his opinion) to ‘tame’ Billy by beating and sexually abusing him, the same way he’d break a lion cub.

Billy’s reaction is to escape into the ‘Fallen Country’ of the title, a fantasy world where there’s eternal snow, where he can ride a dragon, fight monsters, rescue Princesses, and which is ruled by the evil and omnipresent ‘Ringmaster’ with his whip. In the Fallen Country Billy feels no pain – there is no emotion except for anger, which equals power in this world. And Billy has lots and lots of anger.

 

Now, if that sounds like your classic escapist Fantasy of an abused child then you’re in with Dora, the Councillor  And you’re wrong, because the Fallen Country is a real, Magic Kingdom, existing in parallel to our ‘normal’ world, with people going from one to the other.

The book is geared at younger readers (the ‘Young Adults’ Market everyone is clamoring to write for in the age of Harry Potter), but is perfectly fine for readers with a reading (and mental) age of more than 12 years, too.

In its setup it’s highly reminiscing of Pratchett’s ‘Johnny Maxwell’ books, although it doesn't emphasize fun and adventure the same way, as you might have gathered from the above. Maybe the 1st third of Stephenson’s ‘Diamond Age’ is a better reference, except that here we have a magic parallel world instead of a technology based VR. Not much of a difference IMHO.

The book is well written, and has some surprising turns and twists. At times it’s quite hard to turn the page and keep reading, not because of the story flow or the way it’s written (you WANT to know how things move on and get resolved in the end), but because of the topic at hand. Or am I a big softie who hasn't seen enough Horror Movies yes to be able to easily copy with the fairly graphic scenes of abuse in this book?

An impressive book with an unusual take on a tragic topic – I can recommend to read it if you’re not completely put off by the topic.

 

More Somtow Sucharitkul

 

Title: The Fallen Country

Author: Somtow Sucharitul

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net

Publisher:  Bantam/Spectra

Publication Date: April 1986

Review Date: Jan 20 2006

ISBN: 0553255568

Price: UKP3.4+ (2nd hand)

Pages: 198

Format: Paperback

Topic: Fantasy

Topic: Young Adult’s Fiction

 

 

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