Author: Neesha Meminger
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, PoC
Publisher: Ignite Books (self-published)
Publication date: March 2012
Paperback: 308 pages
Pammi has a Secret–she is an Able. At night, she travels through time to an ancient city called Zanum. She’s been visiting Zanum since she was seven and she’s kept it a secret from everyone–including her own mother. Especially her mother. Everything’s been fine…until now.
On the night of an important Zanum ceremony, Pammi follows her gut instinct and defies an elder’s orders, inadvertently leading evil directly to the door of the city she loves. Now the evil that plans to wipe out the city is coming after her. Can she save herself, and Zanum, before it’s too late? Or will she seal the doom of all Ables and witness the annihilation of everyone she loves?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone (but could be the start of a series!)
How did I get this book: We both received review copies from the author.
Why did I read this book: We love Neesha Meminger and her continuous commitment to publishing awesome stories even if she has to do it herself. Ana reviewed her second book, Jazz in Love last year and loved it. When we learnt that her new venture was a Fantasy novel, saw the cover and read the blurb, we just HAD to read it.1
Thea: Into the Wise Dark is the first book I’ve had the pleasure of reading from author Neesha Meminger, though she has been a Book Smuggler staple ever since Ana discovered (and fell in love with) her two prior novels, Shine Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love. Since I’m more of a SFF gal and not so much of a contemporary YA gal, Into the Wise Dark was FINALLY my chance to try Neesha Meminger’s work – and for that, I am very glad. I truly enjoyed the premise of the book, the fantasy elements, the (effortless) diversity of the characters, and setting. While there were some writing issues along the way and some dichotomous characterizations, Into the Wise Dark is a solid urban fantasy novel with a unique twist.
Ana: I was both excited and wary about reading Into the Wise Dark. “Excited” because having loved Neesha Meminger’s previous books so much, I expected nothing less than a good read. “Wary” because this was her first foray into Fantasy and I wondered how this shift from ContempYA to Fantasy would go down. Well, I am pleased to say that it worked really well with a great Fantasy premise, truly great character interaction and an awesome female protagonist. Notwithstanding a couple of hiccups along the way (more on those later), this is another great novel from the author.
On the Plot:
Ana: Pammi has been keeping a secret for a long time. Every night, she travels back in time to the long lost city of Zanum where she has a second family and a boyfriend. The secret is to be kept at all costs so that Pammi can preserve her freedom: her stories of Zanum worried her mother who sent her for a very traumatic psychiatric treatment when she was younger. In the now, Pammi is mostly a lonely, secretive person and despite the attempts of her loving mother to make her more open, it is in Zanum that she truly flourishes.
Pammi is to spend the summer after graduating from high school working as a counsellor at a facility for troubled girls where she realises that her powers are not unique, that there are others like her and that their gift are connected with the Dark – an abstract, yet very real all-encompassing and all-connecting environment. All of it is linked somehow to Zanum –where people with similar gifts thrive until an ancient evil threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – that Pammi holds dear. And it might be all her fault.
In terms of plot, Into the Wise Dark is quite straightforward and it follows an ancient evil that threatens to destroy everything that the main character – whose role to play is central both in terms of motivating the villain and stopping him – loves. What makes it a standout story is the premise of the Dark and the characters.
I loved the idea of the Dark, the different ways of interacting with it as well as the time travel side of it. But above all, I loved the ContempYA elements worked into the novel especially when it comes to the diversity of the characters (in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation) and the friendships between the four main female characters. Of course, there is also that geeky part of me that was over the moon with the connections between Zanum and the ancient (and ok, hypothetical) lost land of Lemuria (seriously, when I was a teenager, I was way into “lost cities” and Lemuria was my favourite lost city of all. Yeah, I was that sort of geek with a favourite lost city. Good times).
On the downside, I thought that parts of the story were considerably slower and that’s explained by a certain amount of info-dump and a tendency to be didactic. It wasn’t enough to annoy me but definitely a “but” for what is otherwise a very cool story.
Thea: From a worldbuilding perspective, Into the Wise Dark can teach many contemporary/urban fantasy novels a thing or two. I love the idea of “Ables” (though maybe not so crazy about the actual nomenclature) and the manipulation of “the Dark” and the different powers that these Ables are granted. Pammi’s particular gift, for traveling back through time by manipulating threads and moving along a spiral in a form of what amounts to astral projection is pretty cool. I also love that Meminger implements solid RULES for her powers – no one is ALL POWERFUL without consequences, and the real world implications of girls leaving their sleeping bodies behind as they use their gifts to travel in time/read others’ minds/etc is frightening stuff (i.e. these girls are seen as traumatized and mentally disturbed, and sent to special clinics to ‘get better’). The lines between conventionally sane and societal expectation are examined briefly but I love the tension here – early in the book I found myself questioning whether or not Pammi actually was suffering from delusions (though she’s not, this is a fantasy novel, not a psychological thriller).
I also loved the setting of the book, as Pammi leaves our current world for a time thousands of years in the past, travelling to Zanum (the ancient Indus River Valley civilization) and making her connections with the people there – who are, interestingly, used to travellers such as Pammi.
So far as actual conflict and story go, however, things are a bit more mundane. Ancient evil stirs, EVIL BAD VILLAIN is responsible, Pammi and her friends have to fight against him for the sanctity of all that is good, yadda yadda yadda. I have nothing against this type of storyline – hell, it’s one of my favorite SFF staples! The backdrop of the unique world and powers that these girls have is more than enough to endear me to the more pedestrian plotting aspects. That said, there were some problems in terms of writing and execution that were jarring to my personal reading experience. As Ana says, there are many info-dumps along the way, and the pacing is uneven because of some stilted transitions and the story stumbled at key points as Pammi moves back and forth through time. I also couldn’t quite buy the entire setup of the institute for traumatized girls – the link between trauma and leadership felt a bit forced and unconvincing to the outside world. Though we do discover that these girls have been selected because of their powers and that’s great and all (in an Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters type of deal), I’m not quite convinced that the actual underlying premise makes sense or why anyone would believe this clinic’s public facade.
Finally, Into the Wise Dark presents things in a very GOOD and EVIL kind of way, with no shades of gray. This is fine, but I like a little more complexity and conflict, especially in a world with powers as tantalizing as those presented int his book.
On the Characters:
Ana: Neesha Meminger has a knack for writing great female characters. I loved Pammi and her mixture of impulsiveness and self-awareness. I loved her circle of relationships. With her mother, a mixture of closeness and distance because of the secrets she has to keep. The one with her boyfriend in Zanum, a relationship that is frank, which includes sexual closeness as well as a honest look at non-monogamous relationships (and all the doubts and desires that might come with it). I loved that theirs was a respectful, loving relationship that was central to Pammi’s life but not THE centre of her life. Above all, l love the relationship that develops between her and the three girls she meets and how this becomes the focus of the novel.
Another thing I loved about the book and the characters: how incredibly self-aware they are. Like for example, questioning the villain’s ridiculous motivation: you know that type of whiny yet dangerous villain who wants to destroy the world because they didn’t get a date to the prom? Yeah, sort of like that. I loved how Pammi totally calls on that. Plus she acts impulsively and does stupid things and questions the fact that no one was telling her the truth – this sort of “let’s not tell the heroine anything so that she has a reason to run into things” always frustrates me and I thought it was fun that Pammi also questioned that and voices it as a reason for some of her actions.
Thea: Ok, by the same token though, Pammi does some REALLY stupid things in the book (largely because she isn’t told the full truth). She’s impulsive and that’s endearing, but her actions have consequences – when she watches a forbidden rite, when she travels back to Zamun even though she’s explicitly told not to because hundreds of lives and the future of the people are in jeopardy, what does she do? She freaking travels back to Zamun. She watches the forbidden rite. ARGH. THEN she realizes that her actions have kind of damned the people she loves and she feels terrible about it.
On the one hand, I love that Pammi actually feels like a real teenager and has this impulsive, selfish streak – it makes her a more genuine character. On the other hand, though, this makes her a very annoying character because of her tendency to screw things up by doing things without thinking through the consequences. And, consequently, Pammi is likeable, but in that annoying-but-you-love-her little sister kind of way. At least for me.
Beyond motivations and questionable decision-making skills, Pammi is given a lot of depth and color as a character, and I have to wholeheartedly agree with Ana’s observations. I love that she has a healthy relationship with her mother (and her mother’s longstanding boyfriend), and I love that Pammi’s culture and heritage as an Indian and an American is effortlessly presented as an integral part of who she is. I also loved the secondary characters of Pammi’s fellow Ables, though they get perhaps less time and attention in the development department. The only characters that left me wanting were the villainous ones, with motivations that are obvious and a little silly.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: As you can tell, I truly loved Into the Wise Dark and hope to see more from this world soon – there is a lot of potential here for more kick-ass stories in the same world, with the same characters.
Thea: I enjoyed Into the Wise Dark and definitely would journey back to the ream of the Dark and the women that can explore its depths! Recommended, with only a few minor reservations.
Ana: 7 – Very Good
Thea: 6 – Good
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From Chapter 1:
Part 1: Zanum
I have become the Dark. This wasn’t something I set out to do. It wasn’t even something I wanted. But that’s what I am.
Pasea says we are all made from the stuff of the Dark – that we carry it within us and it is there for us to mold into whatever vision of reality we hold as truth. But most of us walk around not even knowing the Dark is there…afraid of it, afraid to look into it, to even acknowledge it.
But me and the girls I met the summer after I graduated from high school – we had all seen it. We knew about the Dark. We touched it, merged with it, molded it into our version of reality. I didn’t know how important my role was – rejected it, in fact – until much later.
This is the story of how I, a Traveler of the Dark, went back in time to give life to my ancestors. It is a story of how I consumed Dyal so that she became a part of me forever. And it is a story of how my ancestors ended up in the part of the world now known as the Indus Valley. We began in Zanum, far t the east of the Indus, where e lived for many generations before the Conquest.
And that is where the story begins. In Zanum. But first you need to know who I was before, when I began Traveling. How everything started. And how I had to fight to hold on to my grip on the Dark.
Reading Next: The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
Buy the Book:
- Thea’s Note: On the cover – I love that it features a beautiful person of color, but is it just me, or does this girl look east/southeast asian, as opposed to south asian/Indian? I’m assuming she is meant to be Pammi, our Indian American protagonist. Ethnicity and appearance are widely ranging, of course, but as a southeast asian with cousins and friends that look very much like this model, I just had to mention it. Thoughts, anyone? ↩