Reviewed by Hannah Vernon
When beginning a new story, I see it has a new chapter in life, for it offers a new experience, a new persona, a perspective to gleam from foreign, yet soon to be familiar eyes, a journey to be undertaken not only in mind but in heart that will linger long once the final pages are closed.
I found this applicable to The Unfettered Child.
I try to enter a story, a new world, by avoiding scepticism and any lingering associations my brain has conjured from the title. I must conclude though, that they were there.
‘Unfettered’, was compelling. It sang of the fantasy genre in which I am such an avid admirer of as a writer of this trope myself, and the freedom of creativity it expresses. This was particularly poignant in reference to a child, for children are born with the imagination to follow all of their dreams as if they had all the freedom in the world, whilst adults often find themselves fettered by the more practical problems in life that their juniors cannot always comprehend.
Then I came to the ‘child’. I did not want to make assumptions. Magic and powers and freedom are commonly associated with the fantasy genre, and as I am well acquainted with it, I was unsurprised to consider the possibility of magical powers. However, I could not help the slight sinking feeling experienced in my chest.
Not another magical powers story, I thought.
Cruel, I know. I am an advocate of always giving authors a chance. I admire and appreciate the hours taken to persevere. And would wish for someone to return this courtesy for my sake, but this time, I was hoping for something a little different.
I was not disappointed.
The prologue introduces the reader to the elves. At first, this appears to be a charter of names with very little description concerning each, though I was not deterred for Sahd was able to artfully depict the power plays between them, particularly significant when considering the turmoil of the current political climate and the capacity for all beings to desire in influence. This, to me, added more depth than all of the tribal and colour emphases described throughout the story which, though intriguing in adding flesh to the basic bone structure of a world requiring a fantastical detail, only really served as a superficial attraction. The real underpinning depth was in the elves relations with and to each other, here explored so briefly and yet already portraying the manipulation and desperation that motivates them, breathing life into their characters and allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story with an anchor point that, though imaginary, was at the same time believable in their characterisation and its accompanying reasoning.
The same could not be said as much for Samira, the eight year old protagonist, guided to find her mother and the members of her tribe who she believed to be lost in a slaughter by a magical voice inside her head, who appears to harbour ulterior motives, further colouring the intricacies of the world through the presence of the lust for power within, capable of being felt even by entities.
The fact that she was a child did interest me. I had been sceptical due to the presence of children’s powers, but Samira was actually a child being a child, reasoning like a child, further adding weight and emotion to the story because she wasn’t just a child acting like an adult and therefore making decisions like an adult. She has grown up in a tribal like culture, a further point of interest as she did have skills not often associated with typical children, however her story was told from that child’s perspective, fortunately without descending too far into simplicity. I have to credit, therefore, Sahd’s balance in being able to follow a child’s voice without allowing the power of the story and its subplots to be lost by a child’s simplified mannerisms.
Although within Samira the same degree of depth and development is not present as within the elves, I still embraced the refreshing change of learning from a child’s perspective without feeling it to be inaccurate, and therefore her journey has found a new place in my heart, for despite familiar fantasy elements, this chapter felt rather new.