________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007


The Nightmare Tree. (A Tale of Mysterion).

Richard René.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2007.
173 pp., pbk, $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-363-0.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

* /4


Jonah stared at the place where the apparition had stood. What had he just seen? He knew he was awake, especially towards the end, but why did Papa call himself a dream? Was it a ghost, or something else? And what and where was Nihil? And why would Captain Aquille know about it? And what if...?

So much, he thought. So much I just don't know. But one thing was certain - and he latched onto this thought - he could not ignore what had happened tonight, whatever it was. There was too much doubt about the fate of his father. Speaking to Captain Aquille was the only way to find out the truth. At worst, Jonah would return home to his mother's wrath.

No more thinking, he decided. Just go.

Fourteen-year-old Jonah is devastated by his father's recent disappearance and refuses to believe that he is dead. Therefore, when he is told in a dream that his father is still alive, Jonah sets out at once on a danger-fraught journey to find him. He begins by making his way to a nearby island to seek the assistance of a local hermit known as Captain Aquille. The Captain is able to explain many of the things that Jonah learned in his dream, including the location of Nihil where his father has purportedly gone. Nihil is to be found in the Hidden Islands, a realm that can only be entered in one of two ways: either by mastering the use of a magical lamp that the Captain keeps, or by choosing to accompany the evil Djinn who live there to their home. Jonah cannot accept that his father would have willingly chosen to go with the Djinn, but, determined to find and rescue him, he agrees to study with Captain Aquille to try to learn the ways of the lamp.

     Unfortunately, the Djinn have their own plans for Jonah, and when the Elder Djinn, himself, tries to strike a bargain with the boy, Jonah and the Captain can no longer afford to wait. The time has come for him to use the lamp! When he awakes, he finds himself being dug out of the sand and in the land of Mysterion, an idyllic land filled with magnificent creatures. Here he learns about the origins of this magnificent place, its relation to the world that he has grown up in and how the Djinn have long threatened the existence of Mysterion and its people. Armed with this knowledge and the magic lamp, Jonah sets out once more on the final leg of his journey to confront the Djinn, find and rescue his father and to, at last, learn the truth.

     The mythical world of Mysterion that readers are introduced to in this book is an enchanting kingdom. However, this world and its origins are very confusing, especially in terms of their connection to the real world as we know it. A large part of the book is devoted to lengthy explanations (to Jonah) about the creation of Mysterion and how originally all people were once inhabitants of this place. The evil influence of the Djinn led many astray, and these people ultimately gave up all that they had in Mysterion to live in their dreams. Life on earth, therefore, is really just a dream, and we are all descendants of the poor, misguided souls who abandoned their perfect lives in Mysterion to live in their dreams. Fortunate are those who eventually are "unburied," reawakened to life in their true home of Mysterion.

     This is all very complicated, cumbersome and difficult to follow, and because so much of the story revolves around the convoluted explanations of this kingdom, there is very little actual action to sustain readers' interest. The events of the plot feel very disconnected and episodic in nature, and it is difficult to empathize with any of the characters who remain wooden and one-dimensional. In the tradition of Narnia, this book presents strong religious overtones but in a much more heavy-handed manner. The real world setting of the story (i.e. where Jonah and his family actually live) had the potential to be a unique and engaging aspect of the story. The author alludes to many fascinating aspects of the culture, myths and history of the Sechelles Islands, as well as making reference to political upheaval and social change. Unfortunately, none of this was ever explored in the story which could have been set anywhere. With so many richly imagined and vividly depicted fantasy novels for young readers to choose from, this one will not likely draw a large readership.

Not recommended.

Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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