Editor’s Note: This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from Delacorte Press, a children’s books division of Random House LLC. Price and page count are tentative.
For George R.R. Martin fans, the format of Arwen Elys Dayton’s upcoming young adult steampunk/fantasy novel, “Seeker,” is familiar. Like “Game of Thrones,” each chapter alternates points of view, shedding light on teens inheriting their birthrights.
There’s 15-year-old Quin Kincaid, a strong and pale, dark-haired beauty who could have been a heroine from a Tamora Pierce novel; 15-year-old Shinobu MacBain, Quin’s handsome half Japanese third cousin; and 16-year-old John Hart, Quin’s brown-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend. The three are vying to be Seekers, mysterious sworn assassins who topple evil dictators and right wrongs. Armed with time traveling stones called athames (pronounced ATH-uh-mays), Seekers have “the power of life and death.” But as these young Seeker apprentices soon learn, the boundaries of good and evil aren’t always clear.
Dayton creates a promising world, rich with history, betrayal and revenge that it might remind you of a cross between Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and Phillip Reeve’s YA steampunk “Predator Cities” quartet. John’s family is from a long line of Seekers whose prestige has been stolen by Quin’s father, Briac Kincaid. John’s quest for vengence brings him to the Kincaid’s large, pastoral Scottish estates, where he trains to be a Seeker — hoping to regain his family’s former wealth and power.
Like other YA novels, “Seeker” is build on unsteady foundation and the insecurities of rash, naive and volatile teenagers. The love triangle between Quin, Shinobu and John is present and unnecessary — as if Dayton’s trying to follow the footsteps of “Twilight,” “Hunger Games” and dozens of other successful book-to-movie YA franchises (“Seeker” already has a movie in the works). This makes the book unbalanced as the characters compete for dominance.
While multi-perspective stories can work very well if the world and people are fully fleshed out, “Seeker” is more plot driven than character driven. Sure, Quin, Shinobu and John have loose motives, but unlike Jon Snow the bastard, Tyrion the dwarf or even Jaime Lannister (later in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series), Dayton’s characters are missing those endearing character flaws that make George R.R. Martin’s characters so memorable.
Instead, Dayton relies on gimmicky out-of-sequence chronology to make her trilogy unpredictable. She jumps from present to past to future, teasing us before launching into the characters’ backstories. One minute, Dayton’s young heroes and heroines are fighting on Scottish estates. Eighteen months later, they’re flying airships and diving into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.
Despite its formulaic plot device and lack of focus, the mystery surrounding the Seekers may compel readers to finish the 448-page novel. The most fascinating character is Maud, a young “Dread” — one of the keepers of the Seeker’s rich history (She’s introduced about a third into the novel).
“Seeker” may be a very diluted retelling of “A Song of Ice and Fire” — trying to build another fast-paced young adult book empire. Unfortunately, it might not have all the answers we’re seeking.
“Seeker” was written by Arwen Elys Dayton and will be released on February 10, 2015.