Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo: Both flaws and great moments

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsleven thumps reviewLeven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye

Leven Thumps has some major problems. Its main character, Leven, is too shallowly drawn and far too passive throughout the novel — more acted upon than acting. The book is overlong by about 50-70 pages with some repetitive parts. Its villain isn’t sharply drawn enough and not quite villainous enough. There seems to be a disappointing pattern of equating moderate mundane villainy with being overweight or homely. And far too often Skye tells the reader what is happening rather than showing it.

Despite those many flaws, however, some of them substantial, Gateway remains a highly enjoyable read due to the author’s wonderful sense of originality and whimsy. Foo is literally a sort of dreamland peopled by various creatures such as nits (humans who’ve wandered in accidentally and who each have a singular gift of power), rants (a creature whose body is half human and whose other half is in continuous flux depending on what someone in the real world is dreaming at the time) and Lithens (creatures who travel exclusively by fate). Rare is the teen fantasy (or adult for that matter) that doesn’t round up the usual suspects — elves, dwarves, dragons, horseclans, etc — and Skye should be commended just for stepping out of the mold, though even more for the creative joy he shows.

Foo is threatened internally by Sabine, creator of shadows, who wishes to merge reality and Foo by finding the single regular gateway between the two (the “normal” method of entering Foo is too fun to ruin by telling here). Leven, your typical teen-who-has-a-quest-sprung-on-him character, is joined by Winter (a young girl his age of the same character mold), Clover (a small cat-like creature from Foo attached to Leven since birth), and Geth (whose various incarnations include, yes, a talking toothpick).

Not enough is done with Foo itself, though clearly it will be more fully explored in the second book, so that isn’t much of a complaint. The plot has it fits and starts and can get repetitive, but Skye often saves it with more startlingly original ideas and humorous lines/dialogue. Geth the talking toothpick, for example, is perhaps the most original character I’ve seen and it’s near impossible to read his sections without a constant chuckle. There are other examples, but why ruin them for you?

Winter is a pretty strongly drawn character, as is Geth, and even to some extent Clover, though less so. Unfortunately, Leven himself is not as strong and since Sabine is also a relatively weakly drawn character, their conflict at the center of the book pales quite a bit.

As mentioned, despite the many flaws, Gateway to Foo is highly enjoyable, certainly one of the most original books in this genre I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) if not one of the best written. But given the choice of another adequately or slightly above average cookie-cutter fantasy for teens and one not as well written but populated by fresh ideas, I’ll take the latter. One also assumes, or at least hopes, that the author will improve on the flaws in book two, while keeping the originality and humor. Strongly recommended despite its problems.


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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