Author: Jackie French
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: First published in 1999
Paperback: 289 pages
A young girl’s long and dangerous journey to save a friend she has never met …In Greycliffs, where Anya lives, the people work hard in the slab-rock quarry for most of their life. A rockfall that Anya foresaw in her dreams is blamed on her and she is sent away to the Mountain; a place for those who are different – the Pastseers. For the first time in her life, Anya is accepted, able to be herself. She and Ib, a young boy, are the only children on the Mountain, until they find out that there is a third child who belongs there with them. But who or where she is no one knows. The girl seems to be living in the Rift in Anya’s dreams, although everyone says it is death to go there. But Anya will risk everything she has gained to help this girl and bring her home to the Mountain of Tajore Arkle ..
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Format (e- or p-): Print
Why did I read this book: Tajore Arkle came highly recommended to me by Foz Meadows when we first opened the floor for Old School Wednesdays recommendations. She was kind enough to lend me her copy since the book is out of print.
Tajore Arkle is a world of sand, dust, red skies and relentless work. Anya lives on an insulated village where folks wake up to work in the local quarry and go to bed at end of the day with hardly any breaks in between. They eat Manna, their only food source, and drink the nutritious sweetwater collected in dark caves by the children who are too still young to do quarry work. It’s a bleak world, a hard life but everybody knows this is just how things are.
But Anya dreams. She dreams of impossible things: of blue skies, clear water, rain, animals and foods no one has heard of. She knows her dreams make her different and she mostly keeps them to herself – until one day she dreams about danger in the quarry, tries to warn the villagers and when a terrible accident happens, everybody blames her. The villagers ostracize Anya, her family turn their backs on her and eventually she is sent away to the mysterious Mountain, never to return.
On the Mountain, Anya meets other dreamers like herself and is, for the first time in her life, welcomed with open arms. She comes to learn that she is a Pastseer like everybody else on the Mountain and that her dreams are memories of a past long gone. There she meets Ib, a fellow Pastseer whom she has a profound connection with.
She keeps dreaming though and her dreams show her a girl who seems to be in danger. Anya is convinced that the girl is alive right now and in the Rift, the no-go area that surrounds Tajore Arkle. Everybody tells Anya that those are impossible things: Pastseers do not dream of the present and nobody could be living in the poisonous Rift.
Tajore Arkle proved to be a fascinating read from its opening pages and Tajore Arkle itself is an incredibly thought-out, imaginative world.
But what exactly is Tajore Arkle? Anya’s dreams show a world similar to our own but is Tajore Arkle in its past or its future? Or is it something else altogether? As Anya travels around Tajore Arkle and comes to know more about it, including things she never thought possible, those initial questions are answered but become almost irrelevant in the great scheme of things.
Because beyond those basic questions about the setting and the background of the novel what is really fascinating is the novel’s exploration of different cultures, peoples and especially how social practices are related to history and to the land itself. It was great fun to see how the people on the Mountain used their knowledge of the past as tools and how the peoples in Tajore Arkle adapte that knowledge to their present circumstances in creative ways.
One of the biggest points in the novel is the existence of completely insulated communities, set in their ways and how does this isolation affect the lives of its peoples. One of the questions that Anya asks herself is whether the insulation of those communities (including that of the Pastseers of the Mountain) is what causes people to fear them or is the fear and prejudice simply a reaction result of their own isolation. The answer is not simple or straightforward but I enjoyed seeing Anya confronting the status quo and the idea that “this is how things are”.
I especially love how this questioning is framed as a deeply personal choice and something that works for Anya without making those who don’t question or who are happy with their way of life lesser by contrast. In that sense, Anya is a wonderful protagonist, someone who dares to dream (literally and figuratively) and who learns not to take things for granted. I loved how she was eager to change and how arguing for her beliefs was a learning curve.
My only real “problem” with Tajore Arkle is how short it is and how certain parts read more like a summary rather than a fully developed story. There is certainly enough material in this one story that could have been better developed. Regardless, I really enjoyed this and it was really good to see how this older title featured a bunch of strong, well-developed female characters too.
The bad news is that the book is out of print. Boo.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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