________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017


The Myth in Distance.

Charlene Challenger.
Toronto, ON: Tightrope Books, 2016.
327 pp., trade pbk., $22.95.
ISBN 978-1-988040-13-4.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ellen Wu.

*** /4



Steppe's body was dragged across the floor, through Sylvester's blood. Ansgar's force hurled it onto a fire. It started to burn.

Theresa screamed.

"No one says no to me," Ansgar growled.

"Monster!" Paj shrieked. She drew in her breath and released her most terrifying peals of laughter. Her voice flew through the chamber, caught the seams of their skirts and cloaks and started them flapping like flags in a hurricane. The fires thrashed the air around them, the flames lifting themselves higher, glowing brighter than they ever had before. Ansgar lost Ritter's footing as Paj pushed her back against the wall. Ansgar wasn't disoriented for long. She leapt forward, baring Ritter's teeth, held out his hand, and snapped his fingers.

A clap of thunder. Paj's body turned to a fine white dust that whirled away in the wind.

Something inside Adoni snapped, a part of her she had been too terrified to unleash.

Her rage.

There would be pain. There would be blood. But at that very moment, nothing mattered to her more than vengeance.

She dove for the fire where she knew the seal had fallen and saw it there in the pit, sticking out of the flames. Angsar, gloating over Theresa's misery, didn't notice her reach down and scoop it out with one mitted hand. Adoni kept it fisted in her palm and pulled her other mitten off with her teeth. She jerked her jacket zipper open, grabbed her shirt collar and yanked it down, exposing her unmarked shoulder.

Make me as powerful as Ansgar, she thought, again and again and again. Make me as powerful as Ansgar, so I can put an end to all of this.

Nearly four years after Adoni left The Welcome, she is a first year student studying sociology at the University of Toronto. She attends meetings for the relatives of those who struggle with addiction, goes for early afternoon swims at the Olympic sized swimming pool on campus, attends a music show once in a while as a luxurious treat. On the surface, her life is not much different from other university students, but underneath, Adoni's constant hope is that one day she will be able to return to the In Between. She wants to wreak vengeance on the leader of the changelings, Sylvester. She wants to achieve justice for the victims of Ansgar's whims and tyranny, and finish the revolution she started.

      Not that she is entirely bereft of reminders of that magical realm, for Theresa now owns a food truck called the Reesemobile. She provides Adoni with not only the solace of comfort food, but the solidarity of their shared past as mortal humans who existed in The Welcome, one of five colonies of the In Between. While Theresa seems to be at peace with being on this side of the agate, Adoni is obsessed with the idea of returning to the In Between. She pins her hopes on running into Ritter again, the piper whose magical voice first lured her into the Welcome and the only person who can open the agate and allow her to return.

      The event which brings whiffs of the In Between back to Adoni is a chance encounter after a music show. Adoni is on her way back home when she notices Natalie, her first love whom she met at The Welcome, crossing the street. Adoni calls out to her and runs to greet her, but she does not recognize her and keeps on walking.

      Adoni wonders, why is Natalie back on this side? She had refused to leave the haven of The Welcome when Adoni had begged her to. What changed her mind, and why won't she acknowledge Adoni?

      As if Natalie were a catalyst which hurtles Adoni back into the world she sought to return to for so long, Adoni is lured by the soulful rendition of a street musician playing saxophone. That street musician is none other than Ritter. The only problem is that he has no intention of helping Adoni return to the In Between since she would be reckless in war and "get herself killed". Only when the devious Sylvester pays a visit to him in his apartment with the same request, does he admit to himself that Theresa and Adoni are in danger, and the trio reunite. Worried that Natalie is actually a changeling, Ritter decides they must return to the In Between to investigate.

      Upon their return to the Welcome, they discover that Ansgar has withheld help for the child residents, and that one of the young people snapped, shooting dead many of the residents. All the pipers in the Welcome have abandoned Ansgar's code, and only Paj is left behind to take care of the once beautiful colony. The rumour from survivors in the In Between is that Steppe, the grim, stoic leader of The Welcome, killed all the other pipers at the bidding of Ansgar. Fear and disbelief ripple through the hearts of Adoni and Ritter, and they make the decision to visit Ansgar herself.

      Key to the development of Adoni when she returns to the Welcome is that the powers imbued upon her in the previous book, The Voices in Between, with Ansgar's seal gives her the ability to use piper language to bring things to life, to do her bidding. Tree branches obey her to form a lattice so they could walk across the snow, and rocks form a causeway to Ansgar's fortress when Steppe destroys the only way in with his voice. Adoni has god-like powers in this world, but she has not fully tested them yet.

      As with the first book in the duology, the action picks up substantially in the last third of the novel when the reader finally gets to encounter Ansgar first hand. Challenger imbues her with goosebumps raising creepiness, as a shape shifting goddess whose unpredictability and ghoulish delight in blood sport jangles discordantly against her childish prattle. Ansgar has Steppe in her clutches and has lifted his immortality so that he is aging at an agonizing pace. She wants a "whole set" of dollies to play with, and she even extracts one of Adoni's eyes as a bargaining tool—to bring Sylvester back to her lair and have him and Steppe fight to the death. Of course, that is not enough to satiate Ansgar's bloodlust as she is quickly bored by the fight between them, and after Sylvester and Steppe are both destroyed, she decides to turn her attention on keeping Adoni as her next plaything.

      The final showdown between Adoni and Ansgar is a riveting sequence in which Adoni tries to assume the form of a dragon to fight Ansgar using Ansgar's own techniques. She does not succeed, however, and since she asked to be as strong as Ansgar, not stronger, Adoni struggles to gain the upper hand against her wily opponent. Only when Ritter advises Adoni to outsmart Ansgar does Adoni devise a way to cut her enemy to the core, and only when Ritter gifts her with his voice can their combined power cut Ansgar down.

      Charlene Challenger's conclusion to The Voices in Between drags her characters through a world of suffering in order to bring about catharsis for each of them, but at a very high price. As with the first novel, I felt that Adoni's story at times competes for attention with the immense burden of backstory weighing down on Ritter, Steppe, and Theresa. Nevertheless, the story makes for compelling reading, and the bittersweet ending of the novel is fitting as no one is unscathed by their journey. Theresa has lost the love of her life, and Ritter is forever bereft of his piper's voice and is no longer immortal. Adoni renounces her power and resists the temptation to restore the In Between for fear of transforming into a tyrant like Ansgar, herself. She, instead, focuses on her studies so that she can design strong communities on this side of the agate.

      Myth in Distance and its companion, The Voices in Between, offer an alternative in school and public libraries for those teens who want more than their heroines to be caught in love entanglements, and who stick by the characters as they undergo suffering in order to overcome evil without and within. Urban fantasy with a strongly evoked Canadian setting, that is lyrically composed, and doesn't shy away from difficult outcomes, The Myth in Distance is a satisfying conclusion to the saga of the In Between.


Ellen Wu is a teen services librarian working in Surrey Libraries, BC.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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