Book 42: The Last of Kal (The Battles of Liolia, Book One) by Will Mathison, isbn 9780615451268, 229 pages, WBM Publishing, $9.00
The Premise: (from the back cover) "Speilton is all alone after his village is destroyed. Left with nothing but a small blue egg and instructions to go north into unknown lands, he begins a journey that changes his life forever. Along the way he meets challenges, finds new friends, and realizes he had more strength and courage than he could have ever imagined. All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Relay For Life." (RFL is the American Cancer Society fundraising arm.)
My Rating: 3.5 stars
My Thoughts: Okay, let's get this out of the way: Yes, Will Mathison was in fifth grade when he wrote and illustrated THE LAST OF KAL. Yes, his parents put up the money to self-publish the book because Will wanted to use it to raise money for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life event in his suburb of Atlanta. No, those are not good enough reasons for you to ignore the book. Because honestly: if Will Mathison is this good at plotting, if he has this kind of recognition of the genre tropes of high fantasy, if his sentence structure and narrative sense are this strong, at the age of eleven ... man, I can't wait to see what he can do when he's twenty-one.
The book is not perfect. There are times when you read a sentence and think "oh, yes, obviously the work of a fifth-grader." Mathison occasionally allows his "writer's voice" to interrupt the narrative, because he's so excited to make sure you know what happens next isn't what you might expect to happen. He struggles a bit with keeping a consistent point of view -- most of the book is from Speilton's POV and then there are chapters that show events going on outside of Speilton's range of knowledge. Those are fine, but every now and then there's a POV shift mid-chapter. These are all small qualms, and easily fixed in the hands of a professional editor. Definitely not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the book.
Mathison has obviously read and/or watched, a lot of high fantasy. He hits all the tropes: orphaned child hero, mystical pet, gruff but likable mentor figure, mysterious mission, dark-clad enemies, a prophecy to be fulfilled. He keeps the action moving along, and gives us a chance to get a sense of the entire world these characters are operating in along with Speilton, who has never left his island-village. And, of course, he sets up future books while capably provided closure to this first story of Speilton Lone.
There's also something a bit cute and fun in deciphering Mathison's character and creature names. Most (but not all, the title character being a notable exception) names draw from real words. I won't spoil the fun of figuring out Mathison's method of coming up with names. You'll figure it out quick enough.
I'm definitely recommending THE LAST OF KAL to people. It's a fun book, and the proceeds go to a cause close to my heart. I'm looking forward to Will's next book (which I hear is closing on on 500 pages -- yeah, he's got that part of the high fantasy series tropes down as well: the second book is always longer!) to see how he grows as an author.